Top supporters of Côte d’Ivoire’s outgoing president, who refuses to step down despite international recognition of his opponent as the clear victor in recent elections, have launched a new hostile media campaign against the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country.
“UNOCI [UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] demands the immediate cessation of this negative campaign,” the mission said in a statement today, citing the continual broadcasting over the past week by state stations controlled by defeated president Laurent Gbagbo of images of two injured persons presented as victims of shootings by a UNOCI patrol in Abobo.
“This campaign must have been planned at the highest level of President Gbagbo’s camp on 29 December 2011,” it added. “The tone mounted recently and the campaign is mobilizing actors at the highest level in President Gbagbo’s camp.”
At the same time, the 9,000-strong UNOCI, which has 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, denounced new human rights abuses, including raids by armed elements sent by Mr. Gbagbo’s camp to an opposition headquarters yesterday, resulting in many arbitrary arrests and victims.
UNOCI was asked by all sides to certify the results of the November run-off elections, and when it supported the independent election commission’s findings and declared opposition leader Alassane Ouattara the clear victor, the constitutional council appointed by Mr. Gbagbo threw out hundreds of thousands of opposition votes and declared the outgoing president re-elected.
Mr. Gbagbo then demanded UNOCI’s withdrawal, which the UN rejected, and the media under his control began a first campaign of incitement against the mission earlier last month.
Regional organizations and many countries have all recognized Mr. Ouattara’s victory, including the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which have been shuttling back and forth to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s commercial capital, seeking Mr. Gbagbo’s peaceful departure – so far without success.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has reaffirmed the UN’s “principled and unwavering” stand on Mr. Ouattara’s victory, has been in telephone contact with both the AU and ECOWAS in a bid to find a diplomatic solution, conferring most recently with AU Chairman Jean Ping.
The Security Council too is giving “full support to ECOWAS and the African Union in their current efforts” to find a diplomatic solution, Ambassador Ivan Barbalic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which holds the Council’s presidency for the month of January, told reporters in New York.
Meanwhile, UN agencies continue to aid refugees from among both Mr. Ouattara’s and Mr. Gbagbo’s followers, who have fled the rising tension to neighbouring Liberia. Their numbers now top, 22,000, mostly women and children who urgently need food, shelter and clean water, all in short supply in Liberia's Nimba County, where the refugees are arriving.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it would send seven trucks this week from Monrovia, the Liberian capital, to the eastern town of Saclepea in Nimba County, five of them carrying food and non-food supplies, and two construction material.
“We have also signed an agreement with the Norwegian Refugee Council to simultaneously distribute the food and non-food relief items in all refugee-receiving villages,” it added, noting that it had erected a portable warehouse in the border village of Luguato to stock relief items, including food.
On Tuesday the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it would immediately make food available for close to 21,000 refugees. Last week, UNHCR started distributing WFP-supplied high energy biscuits to children under five, lactating mothers, pregnant women and people in poor health. While awaiting the food distribution, refugees are helping their host communities to harvest crops in exchange for a portion of the rice, cassava and other staples collected.
The refugees, a mixed group of supporters of Mr. Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo, say they fled their homes at night and walked through the bush to avoid detection by people holding opposing political views. As a result, their journey took hours longer than normal.
UNHCR staff report that refugees continue to arrive in Liberia on a daily basis. “With additional staff deployed to the border areas, we are hoping to speed up registration, which opens the right to assistance and protection for the refugees,” said the agency.