UN attacked in Ivory Coast

Forces loyal to incumbent Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo have attacked several UN vehicles in the country’s main city, Abidjan, the UN says. Six vehicles were attacked, with two people injured, a spokesman said. Mr Gbagbo has refused to admit defeat after the election in November, in which the UN recognised his rival Alassane Ouattara as the winner. Mr Ouattara and his government-in-waiting have been under siege by Mr Gbagbo’s forces in an Abidjan hotel. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the latest attacks.  “The secretary general is deeply concerned that regular and irregular forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo have begun to attack and burn United Nations vehicles,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said, adding that those responsible would be held accountable.

The UN mission in Ivory Coast (Unoci) said it had “noticed over the last three days that president Gbagbo’s camp has transformed its hostility towards Unoci from verbal propaganda into physical attacks”. The presidential vote was supposed to reunify the world’s largest cocoa producer, which has been divided between north and south since a conflict in 2002. Last month Mr Gbagbo ordered all foreign peacekeepers to leave the country immediately – but the UN has refused to recognise his authority to make such decisions.

31 December 2010 – The United Nations today warned Côte d’Ivoire’s outgoing president that it would “repulse and defeat” any attack by his partisans on the headquarters of his internationally recognized successor, and that he himself would be held personally accountable for human rights abuses. “They cannot possibly take the Golf Hotel,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Y. J. Choi told UN Radio, when asked about threats by Minister for Youth Blé Goudé to attack tomorrow the UN-protected hotel where opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, clear victor in November’s run-off election, is based after outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down and vacate the presidential palace. “We are heavily armed and present and preparing ourselves,” he said of the 9-000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, known as UNOCI, some of whose forces are guarding the building. “They will be defeated, they will be repulsed. There is no doubt about this. “I hope he (Mr. Goudé) will not step into this fatal minefield,” he added, noting that the UN had so far not seen any sign of preparations for an attack.

Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief has directly warned Mr. Gbagbo and his entourage that they will be held personally accountable amid continuing reports of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, sexual violence and arbitrary detentions following his refusal to step down. “No longer can heads of State, and other actors, be sure that they can commit atrocious violations and get away with it,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in Geneva today, announcing that she had written “in the strongest terms” to Mr. Gbagbo reminding him of his duty under international law to refrain from committing, ordering, inciting, instigating or standing by in tacit approval of rights violations. She sent similar letters to Ivorian Republican Guard Commander General Bruno Ble Dogbo, Marines Rear Admiral Vagba Faussignaux, and Security Operations Command Centre General Georges Guiai Bi Poin.

Ms. Pillay reiterated her strong concern that deteriorating security and interference with UNOCI continue to block investigation of a large number of reported violations. “We have received reports of at least two mass graves; however, UN human rights teams have been denied access to the scenes of these atrocities in order to investigate them,” she said. “Denying access to alleged mass grave sites and places where the victims’ mortal remains are allegedly deposited constitutes a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.” She voiced concern at calls by Mr. Goudé and others for attacks against the UN and “non Ivorians,” as well as reports about the marking of homes with ethnic identities, which could be followed by attacks against civilians from certain ethnic groups. Yesterday Mr. Ban warned against any attempts to attack the Golf Hotel amid fears that renewed violence could plunge the West African country back into civil war, a chapter that the elections were meant to close.

In 2002 the country was split by civil war into a rebel-held north and a Government-controlled south. UNOCI, which has been on the ground since 2003 helping to monitor a ceasefire and promote reunification, has rebuffed Mr. Gbagbo’s demand that it leave following its certification of Mr. Ouattara’s victory. Ms. Pillay’s announcement followed a joint news release by UN human rights experts decrying a litany of reported abuses in the violence that has followed Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office. Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns cited the number of reported extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and reiterated warnings against the risks of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Special Rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo cited allegations of sexual violence committed by armed men and called on all parties to do their utmost to prevent such abuses. The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, stressing that victims, including relatives of the disappeared, have the rights to justice, redress, truth and reparation, vowed to see that those rights are respected. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted that hundreds of people have reportedly been arbitrarily arrested and some taken to illegal centres in what it called “heinous violations” of international human rights law.

Meanwhile, UN agencies are rushing aid to nearly 20,000 Ivorian refugees who have fled to neighbouring Liberia. The UN refugee agency said it would set up camps and called on the international community to provide more funding, noting that it had pre-positioned aid in the region to assist 30,000 refugees and spent $3 million from its emergency reserves. “Our teams in Liberia continue to distribute emergency aid across villages where refugees are sheltered,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement, listing plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, kerosene, lamps, buckets, soap, mosquito nets and other basic household items. “We will need donor support to keep continuing our aid efforts.” The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already airlifted emergency supplies into Liberia as part of a rapid scale up of humanitarian operations, including five metric tons of high energy biscuits. “We are mobilizing food stocks at a regional and local level to help these people, who are facing a grim start to the New Year,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Amir Abdulla said. “These biscuits will provide a welcome nutritional boost to refugees, many of whom have crossed the border with little in the way of food for their families.”

Côte d’Ivoire: Ban warns of consequences for those attacking UN peacekeepers

13 January 2011 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today warned forces loyal to the outgoing Côte d’Ivoire president, who has refused to step down despite his election defeat, that they will be held accountable for their criminal attacks on United Nations peacekeepers in the country. At the same time, the UN humanitarian chief stressed that the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of Ivorians were threatened by the deteriorating crisis sparked by Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara’s UN-certified and internationally-recognized victory in November’s run-off election. In a statement issued by his spokesman, Mr. Ban voiced deep concern that regular and irregular forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo have begun to attack and burn vehicles belonging to the nearly 9,000-strong UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), which has been supporting efforts over the past seven years to reunify a country split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.

“Beginning this morning, there have been a total of six incidents involving such attacks in Abidjan [the commercial capital] where a UNOCI military vehicle was burned. A doctor and the driver of an ambulance targeted in one of the attacks were injured,” the statement said. UNOCI noted that two vehicles were burned and three others damaged. Mr. Ban also strongly condemned an armed attack yesterday on a UN convoy in the Abobo quarter of Abidjan, as well as the continuing use of the State broadcasting corporation by Gbagbo loyalists to instigate violence against the UN mission, including false allegations that peacekeepers are extending active support to forces supporting Mr. Ouattara. In the light of Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to vacate the presidential palace despite the recognition of Mr. Ouattara’s election victory by the UN, the African Union (AU) and many countries, the new president and his Government are currently based in the Golf Hotel under UNOCI protection.

“The Secretary-General once again warns those responsible for organizing and carrying out such attacks that they will be held accountable,” today’s statement concluded. “He stresses that both attacks on peacekeepers and destruction of assets deployed for purposes of protecting civilians constitute crimes under international law.” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos warned today that the humanitarian consequences of the violence in Côte d’Ivoire will rapidly worsen if the political crisis is not urgently resolved. Over 23,500 Ivorians have already fled to neighbouring countries over the past five weeks, the vast majority to Liberia, amid growing fear and insecurity, while 16,000 others are internally displaced in the west of the country, the majority of them pregnant and nursing women, and school-age children.

“A peaceful and rapid solution to the crisis is critical for the people of Côte d’Ivoire and for the region as a whole,” Ms. Amos said in a news release. “It is important that all parties refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, hate speech and incitement to violence to ensure that the situation does not escalate any further.” Humanitarian organizations are doing their utmost to ensure that aid reaches the needy, especially women, children and the elderly, as quickly as possible. In Liberia and in western Côte d’Ivoire, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have already started distributing food and non-food items. Aid and staff are also being pre-positioned in other neighbouring countries. Over the past few weeks, contingency plans have been extensively revised to ensure the UN and its partners stand ready to respond in case a major humanitarian crisis unfolds.

“To ensure effective implementation of humanitarian activities, it is essential that a conducive environment is created and maintained,” Ms. Amos said. “There are continuing allegations of serious human rights violations from around the country. The violence has already caused a 10-fold increase in internal displacement in the space of a few days, showing how quickly a political crisis can have grave humanitarian consequences.” The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Ndolamb Ngokwey, told a news conference in Abidjan that 85 tonnes of food were on the way today to the western region where most of the displaced are seeking refuge. UNOCI Human Rights Division Director Simon Munzu, meanwhile, said the country was not on the brink of genocide as some have said but it was possible it could move towards genocide.

“Whatever our political opinion, our ethnicity, our religion, whether we are foreigners or Ivorians, I believe that we must remain vigilant to avoid, to prevent, to impede that we arrive at a genocide,” he added. There are similarities between current phenomena in Côte d’Ivoire, such as political intransigence and highly partisan media, and those that led to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which 800,000 people are estimated to have been murdered, he noted. November’s run-off election was meant to be the culminating point of the agreement that ended the 2002 civil war but the situation has deteriorated seriously since Mr. Gbagbo’s rejection of the result. He has demanded UNOCI’s departure, which the UN has rejected, and Mr. Ban is expected to ask the Security Council for between 1,000 and 2,000 additional forces for the mission.

UN convoy attacked in Abidjan

UN peacekeeping forces have come under attack in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan as tensions grow over the outcome of the recent presidential run-off election in the West African country. A hostile crowd fired shots at a UN convoy in the Abobo district on Wednesday. The peacekeepers responded with warning shots, Radio France Internationale reported on Thursday.
“The patrol did not fire on the crowd,” spokesman for the UN peacekeeping forces in Ivory Coast, Hamadoun Toure, told journalists on Thursday. He added that UN peacekeepers on patrol were blocked by barricades and a crowd then surrounded the vehicles. After that, gunmen, who had holed up inside a building, opened fire on the UN convoy. “We did not shoot into the crowd, just so that is clear,” the UN official noted. Almost 20,000 Ivorians have fled to neighboring Liberia following the crisis which followed the disputed November 28 election. The United Nations expects the number of refugees to hit 30,000, according to Reuters.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in a Saturday statement said that the growing number of Ivorian refugees has had a major impact on several Liberian communities. “Our staffs report that host community houses are full and congested,” the UNHCR said. “There are homes where 7 to 20 family members share a single room.” The embattled self-declared Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has ignored calls from countries both on the African continent and worldwide to concede defeat to Alassane Ouattara in November 28 run-off presidential election. “Between 16 and 21 December, human rights officers have substantiated allegations of 173 killings, 90 instances of torture and ill treatment, 471 arrests and detentions and 24 cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances,” UN’s Deputy Human Rights Chief Kyung-wha Kang said on Thursday. The European Union on December 13 slapped sanctions against Gbagbo and his political aides to intensify his diplomatic isolation.

The union gave carte blanche to draft a list of officials deemed to be “obstructing the process of peace and national reconciliation … and who are jeopardizing the proper outcome of the electoral process,” EU ministers said in a statement. Sanctions including visa bans and asset freezes “will particularly target those leading figures who have refused to place themselves under the authority of the democratically elected President,” the statement read. “We call for an immediate and peaceful handover of power,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters after the ministerial meeting. “We decided to adopt, without delay, restrictive measures against those who are obstructing peace and reconciliation.” “I hope today’s decision will persuade the incumbent government to respond before we reach that stage,” she said. On December 9, the 53-nation African Union (AU) decided to suspend the membership of Ivory Coast over the disputed presidential election. The AU said the suspension would remain until president-elect Ouattara takes power.

On December 2, Ivory Coast’s electoral commission announced that opposition candidate Ouattara had won the nation’s long-awaited presidential election with 54 percent of the vote. However, the Constitutional Council immediately contested the result, citing the electoral commission’s failure to declare the vote result by its declared deadline. The council overruled earlier provisional poll results a day later and declared Gbagbo as the winner of the country’s presidential run-off election. The opposition leader Ouattara had earlier named Guillaume Soro to head his government as prime minister should he win the presidential election. “The process underway to settle this conflict is irreversible,” Soro said. The disputed presidential election has raised the risk of a long power struggle in the country. The world’s top cocoa-producing nation is still reeling from the 2002-2003 civil war, which split the West African country in two.

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