Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday voiced his deep concern about the developments unfolding in the Abobo suburb of Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital, Abidjan, where clashes between security forces and supporters of President-elect Alassane Ouattara have reportedly left six people dead, and warned against any further raids by forces loyal to outgoing leader Laurent Gbagbo.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said of particular concern are reports about plans by forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo to launch another operation in the area tonight.
A curfew has been imposed and the forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo are attempting to force peacekeepers serving with UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) dispatched to protect civilians to leave the area. Mr. Ban reiterating that any attacks on UN peacekeepers are “unacceptable,” according to the statement.
“The Secretary-General warns those responsible for organizing and executing the planned operation that they will be held responsible for their actions.”
He called on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid further clashes that could lead to more loss of life and destruction of property.
Earlier today, UNOCI spoke out against an ambush of its peacekeepers by armed forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo in Abobo overnight. A team made up of UN police and military personnel was coming back from patrol in the area when shots were fired at it, prompting it to return fire, the mission said in a statement.
“The mission notes that this ambush occurred one day after the forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo blocked and looted a UNOCI convoy on its way to re-supply the Golf Hotel,” UNOCI said, adding that three peacekeepers were slightly injured in the overnight incident.
The West African country, the world's biggest cocoa producer, has been in turmoil since early December when the Mr. Gbagbo refused leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara's UN-certified victory in November's run-off election. Mr. Ouattara, who has set up base in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, has been recognized by the international community as the West African country's duly elected president.
UNOCI also reported that yesterday, several hundred men in black uniforms reportedly began shooting and forcing residents out of houses in Abobo. The mission made contact at the political level with Mr. Gbagbo's team, but when two UNOCI patrols tried to reach the area, they were blocked by people manning checkpoints.
Amid daily reports of incitement to hatred and violence, human rights violations and attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, there are fears that country could return to civil war. The polls last year were meant to help reunify the nation, which was split by civil war in 2002 into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. An estimated 25,000 Ivorian refugees fled into neighbouring Liberia, with some 600 people arriving there each day, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
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 UNOCI, which currently has nearly 9,000 peacekeepers. The new “blue helmets” will fill the gap currently bridged by peacekeepers from the UN peacekeeping mission in neighbouring Liberia, who were deployed on a temporary basis for the elections.