The United Nations is seeking up to 2,000 additional troops for its nearly 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire where the outgoing president’s refusal to step down despite his opponent’s electoral victory has sparked fears of renewed civil war.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will send a request to the Security Council next week for between 1,000 and 2,000 additional forces for the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (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.
The new troops will fill the gap currently bridged by peacekeepers from the UN Mission in neighbouring Liberia (UNMIL) deployed on a temporary basis for the elections, which were intended to crown the reunification process but have degenerated into political deadlock and violence by supporters of outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to recognize his UN-certified defeat by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.
The chief UN human rights monitor in Côte d’Ivoire said today 31 more people had died under suspicious circumstances in the past week, with 17 new cases of forced disappearances reported.
Mr. Gbagbo has demanded UNOCI’s departure, which the UN has rejected, and the mission is now protecting the new president and his Government in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital, surrounded by regular and irregular forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo which constrict free movement of UNOCI and civilians into and out of the building.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy yesterday briefed the Council on ethnic strife in western in Côte d’Ivoire and the constant barrage of hate propaganda against UNOCI from State radio and television that remain under Mr. Gbagbo’s control.
“The restrictions on the freedom of movement of UNOCI in the capital and elsewhere, mainly in the west, remain a serious concern where incidents of roadblocks and aggression by regular and irregular forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo continue,” he said.
“This is critical not only for UNOCI to implement its mandate and ensure supplies, but also in the context of its protection of civilian and human rights mandate. Despite denial of access to affected areas, the mission is also doing its best to protect all civilians, irrespective of their political affiliations,” he added.
Protecting “civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” is part of the mission’s mandate and Mr. Le Roy stressed that ONUCI conducts some 50 patrols per day in Abidjan alone, where there are currently nearly 3,500 UN troops and police, some 750 of whom are protecting the Golf Hotel.
Reporting on the new deaths and disappearances, UNOCI Human Rights Division Director Simon Munzu told a news conference in Abidjan that everyone should be concerned about human rights violations whatever their political affiliation, adding that although international justice may give the impression of being “as slow as a tortoise,” it has “the weight of an elephant.”
He reported several clashes and inter-community conflicts resulting in abuses in the centre-west, the most serious of which took place over the past two or three days in Duékoué, where communal violence broke out after the death of a woman during a robbery and at least 14 people were killed and many others displaced.
Violations also included raids by forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo on the offices of opposition parties, leading to one death and several arrests, with numbers varying between 35 and 80, he added. Those detained were reportedly taken to the police commissioner’s office in Abidjan.
“We are not sure what became of them,” Mr. Munzu said. “UNOCI will continue to do its work because our action is in the interest of Ivorians and until there is proof to the contrary, they still appreciate what we are doing even in the current climate in which relations between the mission and certain politicians seem tense.”
UNOCI was asked by all sides to certify the results of the November run-off elections, and it supported the independent election commission’s findings declaring Mr. Ouattara the clear victor but the constitutional council appointed by Mr. Gbagbo threw out hundreds of thousands of opposition votes and declared the outgoing president re-elected.
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 seeking Mr. Gbagbo’s peaceful departure – so far without success. Mr. Ban 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.
Meanwhile, UN agencies continue to aid refugees from among both Mr. Ouattara’s and Mr. Gbagbo’s followers, who have fled to Liberia. Their numbers now top 22,000, most of whom are 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.