United Nations peacekeepers in Côte d’Ivoire have received two attack helicopters, with a third on its way, to reinforce the world body’s mission as it confronts increasing violence sparked by former president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down despite his defeat at the polls.
The reinforcements will improve the operational capacity of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), in particular in protecting civilians, mission spokesman Hamadoun Touré told a news briefing in Abidjan, the commercial capital, where Gbagbo loyalists have attacked civilians supporting opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.
Mr. Ouattara, the UN-certified and internationally recognized victor of November’s run-off election, is himself under siege in the city’s Golf Hotel.
UNOCI itself has come under targeted attacks following a call made by a major Gbagbo loyalist, Charles Blé Goudé, leader of the Young Patriots, according to Guillaume Ngefa, the deputy director of UNOCI’s Human Rights Division. He told the same press briefing that 50 people had died in clashes between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces in one week, bringing the total death toll to 365 since violence erupted in mid-December.
In New York, following a briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy, the Security Council voiced deep concern at the escalating attacks on civilians in Abidjan, the increasing numbers of refugees and displaced persons, estimated in the scores of thousands, and the risk of a resurgence of the civil war that in 2002 split the country into a Government-held south and a rebel-controlled north.
Calling on both sides to show the utmost restraint, the 15-member body condemned the violence perpetrated against UN personnel and civilians, reiterated its long-standing call to Mr. Gbagbo to lift the siege of the Golf Hotel, and urged UNOCI “to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate, in particular to protect civilians.”
In addition, it repeated its readiness to impose sanctions against all those threatening the peace process, obstructing UNOCI and inciting hatred and violence.
The 9,000-strong UNOCI has been supporting the stabilization and reunification efforts over the past seven years and was asked by all sides to certify the elections, which were meant to be the culminating point. But after Mr. Gbagbo’s rejection of the results and his demand that the mission withdraw, the Council authorized the immediate deployment of 2,000 more troops and three armed helicopters.
“UNOCI wants to stress that these helicopters will be used to promote peace and provide protection,” Mr. Touré said, noting that the mission carried out 864 air and ground patrols throughout the country during the past week despite roadblocks and other obstacles.
Mr. Ngefa voiced extreme concern at armed confrontations in the west and Yamoussoukro, the capital, as well as in some neighbourhoods of Abidjan, warning that those who violate human rights will be held accountable.
Introducing her annual report in Geneva today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced extreme concern at the increasing violence and rights abuses in Côte d’Ivoire.
“The flaring up of armed clashes in Abidjan and the west of the country puts civilians at grave risk,” she said. “A humanitarian crisis is unfolding as people flee the fighting. I deplore violent attacks by Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters against the United Nations.”