Fresh fighting erupted today in a strategic town in western Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations peacekeeping operation reported, amid mounting international concerns about the humanitarian situation in the West African country.
The peacekeeping mission, known as UNOCI, said many residents of the town of Duékoué have gathered at its premises to seek protection from the fighting between forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down since losing a UN-certified presidential election last year, and supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who won the election.
The Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), which back Mr. Ouattara, are continuing to push east, UNOCI reported. Media reports indicate that the fighting between the pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo forces has been fierce.
Duékoué is seen as a strategic town in part because of its location in the country’s cocoa-growing region.
In Abidjan, the commercial capital of Côte d’Ivoire, UNOCI said the situation remains highly volatile, with UN patrols confirming that pro-Gbagbo forces have used mortars and heavy machine guns in the Abobo neighbourhood, seen as a pro-Ouattara stronghold.
UN staff and vehicles have also been targeted across the city, with a UN-marked bus damaged by stone-throwing demonstrators yesterday.
Top UN officials have voiced growing concern about the situation inside Côte d’Ivoire, where up to 1 million people have been displaced – some internally, and some to neighbouring nations – since fighting first broke out in the wake of last November’s disputed election.
Nearly 500 people are reported to have been killed, and the violence appears to have stepped up in recent weeks.
The UN Human Rights Council is sending an independent international commission of inquiry to Côte d’Ivoire to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding allegations of serious rights abuses.