United Nations peacekeepers in Côte d'Ivoire launched a military operation late today against the forces supporting the former president Laurent Gbagbo after they continued to mount attacks against the UN, the country's elected Government and civilians in the city of Abidjan.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon instructed the peacekeeping operation (UNOCI) – which is being supported by French Licorne forces – to “use all necessary means” to prevent the pro-Gbagbo forces from using heavy weapons in the country's biggest city.
Pro-Gbagbo forces have been carrying out attacks across Abidjan since Wednesday, a day after their representatives claimed they were initiating negotiations to end the deadly fighting.
Côte d'Ivoire has been engulfed by violence since last November, when Mr. Gbagbo refused to step down from power, despite losing a UN-certified and internationally recognized presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.
In a statement issued today Mr. Ban reiterated his call on Mr. Gbagbo to cede power, saying he was deeply concerned about the latest developments in the West African nation.
“I am particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation across the country and about human rights abuses,” he said. “Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence – the fighting must stop.”
Up to one million people have either fled the country or are internally displaced because of the fighting, and hundreds of civilians are thought to have been killed in just the past week after particularly fierce fighting as pro-Ouattara forces advanced across the country.
Senior UN officials, including Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, have spoken about out the numerous rights violations and urged all sides to the fighting to allow humanitarian access to those in need.
Mr. Ban said today that when the pro-Gbagbo forces were claiming to be laying down their arms earlier this week, they were in fact using that period “to regroup their forces and re-deploy heavy weapons” in Abidjan, where the fighting is now concentrated.
Since then the pro-Gbagbo forces have fired rocket-propelled grenades at UNOCI patrols and positions and used armoured personnel carriers mounted with heavy machine guns to attack civilians in the neighbourhoods of Adjamé and Attecoube, wounding dozens of people in the process.
Yesterday the Gbagbo camp launched an attack against the Golf Hotel, where members of Mr. Ouattara's Government have been based. UNOCI blue helmets were able to successfully repel the attack, although one peacekeeper was wounded.
“These actions are unacceptable and cannot continue,” Mr. Ban said, saying the actions of the pro-Gbagbo forces had compelled him to ask UNOCI to take measures to protect both themselves and the civilian residents of Abidjan.