The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire reported today that it has received telephone calls from the heads of forces loyal to former leader Laurent Gbagbo stating that their soldiers have been instructed to stop fighting and hand in their weapons to the UN.
The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) said the calls came from General Philippe Mangou, the chief-of-staff of the Defence and Security Forces, General Thiape Kassarate Edouard, the commander of the National Gendarmerie and General Bruno Dogbo Blé, the commander of the Republican Guard.
Troops loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, the former president who refused to step down after losing the election in November to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, have been engaged in fierce fighting with forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara, who have in recent weeks stepped up their offensive to force the ex-leader out of power. Mr. Ouattara is the internationally recognised President of Côte d’Ivoire.
“UNOCI has given orders to its troops to receive arms wherever they are handed in and to offer protection to disarmed FDSCI [Defence and Security Forces of Côte d’Ivoire] elements, including the Special Forces,” the UN mission said in a press release.
Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the situation in Abidjan, the West African country’s commercial capital and the scene of the some fiercest fighting over the past week, is alarming.
Most of the hospitals are not functioning and ambulances have been fired on when they tried to enter the city, according to OCHA.
Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, who is visiting Côte d’Ivoire, reported that internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the western town of Duékoué, the scene of an alleged massacre of civilians last week, were “fearful and traumatized.”
Ms. Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of OCHA, stressed the need for physical protection for those affected and the distribution of sufficient humanitarian aid. Access to many civilians in need has, however, been severely restricted or completely cut off since mid-February when the fighting intensified, according to OCHA.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator was accompanied on the visit to Duékoué yesterday by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, who went to the town to look into the mass killings that allegedly took place last Wednesday.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) voiced alarm over the impact of the violence in Côte d’Ivoire on children.
“We are especially troubled by reports that children are among the victims of a mass killing there,” said Anthony Lake, the UNICEF Executive Director. “And children continue to be recruited by armed forces on all sides of the conflict – a grave violation of their rights which jeopardizes not only their future but also the chances for achieving sustainable peace in Cote d’Ivoire.”
“We fear outbreaks of disease if we and other agencies cannot reach the thousands of internally displaced families,” added Mr. Lake.