The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire will “robustly” fulfil its mandate, breaking through roadblocks if needed, to protect civilians and the “legitimate Government” after the outgoing president’s refusal to step down in the face of his rival’s internationally recognised electoral victory, a top UN official warned today.
Decrying a campaign of lies, hatred and incitement against the mission, known by its acronym UNOCI, especially from the state broadcasting authority under the control of Laurent Gbagbo, who was defeated in November’s run-off poll by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy insisted on the peacekeepers’ right to freedom of movement.
“We will ensure firmly, if someone obstructs us, that we cross through roadblocks because it is inadmissible that anybody prevent us from protecting civilians,” he told a news conference in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, attributing attacks on UN personnel and the deaths of at least 173 civilians in street violence to the campaign of incitement. He said UNOCI was increasing its patrols day and night in Abidjan and reinforcing its systems of alert and liaison.
He noted, however, that defence and security forces chief of staff General Philippe Mangou had assured him that there would be no further blocking of UNOCI’s freedom of movement and that UN vehicles are now able to take the road to Abidjan’s Golf Hotel, where Mr. Ouattara has taken up residence in the face of Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to vacate the presidential palace.
He noted, too, a reduction in attacks against civilians compared with last week. “So we see some signs of improvement, but the situation is very tense and the improvement of the past few days, nobody can promise that they will sustain it for many days or weeks, but we hope they will,” he said. “We are determined to have our freedom of movement respected.”
After the UN certified Mr. Ouattara as the victor in the electoral run-off, Mr. Gbagbo demanded the departure of UNOCI, which been supporting efforts over the past seven years to reunify the West African country, split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. The election was meant to be a culminating point in the process.
The Security Council last week unanimously rebuffed the demand, renewed the nearly 9,000-strong force for another six months, foreshadowed a possible increase, threatened sanctions against those imperilling peace and stressed its mandate to protect civilians.
It was those points that Mr. Le Roy highlighted today, underscoring the UN’s total impartiality in certifying Mr. Ouattara’s victory in accordance with its mandate and noting that the mission is “living through difficult circumstances,” though he noted that Mr. Gbagbo has said he wants to use diplomatic, not military means to achieve UNOCI’s departure.
“To accuse us of partiality is absurd when we are fulfilling a mandate requested (in 2005) by President Gbagbo himself and the African Union and the Security Council,” he said. “There are a very great number of lying accusations against UNOCI and they are seeking to manipulate the population against UNOCI…
“These declarations that we hear worry us, more exactly appall us because they clearly incite the population to turn against UNOCI, they incite towards hatred,” he added, citing “lies” that the UN is transporting men and equipment for the rebels.
He referred to yesterday’s attack by a large crowd on a three-vehicle UN convoy in which one soldier was slashed with a machete and a vehicle set on fire. Calm was restored when Gen. Mangou intervened and today Mr. Le Roy hailed him for preventing “a bloodbath.”
Earlier today Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held another video-conference with Mr. Le Roy and his Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Y. J. Choi, before receiving the credentials of Mr. Ouattara’s representative, Youssoufou Bamba, as the country’s new Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, in line with a unanimous General Assembly ruling last week.
Mr. Ban also spoke by telephone with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, who briefed him on the recent Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) mission to Côte d'Ivoire by Presidents Yayi Boni of Benin, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde and Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone. The two agreed to stay in close contact in the coming days, including on the outcome of the next ECOWAS visit of the three presidents on 3 January.
Yesterday Mr. Le Roy visited Bouaké, in the rebel-held north where he conferred with local commanders and reiterated that UNOCI’s mandate entails “ensuring the protection of civilians, personalities, including elected President Alassane Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, as well as the Golf Hotel.”