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UN rejects demand to leave I.Coast

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2010 at 8:27 am

UN chief Ban Ki-moon rejected a demand that UN peacekeepers leave Ivory Coast, heightening the international confrontation with contested leader Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo had earlier ordered UN and French peacekeepers out of the country, accusing them of backing rebel fighters supporting his rival Alassane Ouattara.

The demand for their “immediate” departure reflected the growing anger of Gbagbo’s nationalist supporters, and came as his most notorious lieutenant urged young Ivorians to make ready to fight for their sovereignty.

But Ban condemned attacks on UN troops in the West African nation and warned of “consequences” for those behind such action.

A supporter of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo attends a demonstration in central London. UN chief Ban Ki-moon rejected a demand that UN peacekeepers leave Ivory Coast, heightening the international confrontation with contested leader Laurent Gbagbo

The UN mission, UNOCI, “will fulfil its mandate and will continue to monitor and document any human rights violations, incitement to hatred and violence, or attacks on UN peacekeepers,” Ban was quoted as saying in a statement.

The United Nations, United States, European Union and Ivory Coast’s west African neighbours all demanded that Gbagbo cede power to Ouattara after both men claimed to have won last month’s presidential election.

But the veteran strongman retains control of the official armed forces and his backers have vowed to fight on, turning their anger on UN peacekeepers, former colonial power France and Ouattara’s own Ivorian supporters.

“The president of the Republic of the Ivory Coast has just asked for the immediate departure from Ivorian territory of UNOCI and the French forces that support it,” Education Minister Jacqueline Lohoues-Oble said on Saturday.

As tension mounted between the two camps, Gbagbo’s supporters accused the United Nations’ 10,000-strong force and France’s 900 troops in Ivory Coast of supporting pro-Ouattara rebel fighters.

The spokeswoman repeated these claims and accused the UN mission of broadcasting rebel propaganda on its radio station to destabilise the country.

Ban said: “The international community has spoken with one voice regarding Mr. Gbagbo’s attempt to hold onto power.”

He added that statements of support for Ouattara by the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, and the African Union “have shown that the African continent is united in its commitment to respect the democratically expressed will of the Ivorian people.”

About 800 UN forces are protecting Ouattara’s government headquarters in an Abidjan hotel, while Gbagbo retains the presidential palace and the loyalty of the Ivory Coast army.

Ban “is deeply concerned about the attacks on a UN patrol and sentries at UNOCI HQ perpetrated by elements of the Ivorian security forces apparently loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, and an attack on UN military observers by Young Patriots on Saturday, 18 December, which left two military observers wounded.”

The Young Patriots also back Gbagbo.

Ban warned: “There will be consequences for those who have perpetrated or orchestrated any such actions or do so in the future.”

The UN leader reaffirmed a warning made on Friday that “any attack on UN forces will be an attack on the international community and those responsible for these actions will be held accountable.

“Any continued actions obstructing and constricting UN operations are similarly unacceptable.”

Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s choice for prime minister and the leader of the New Forces former rebel movement, dismissed Gbagbo’s orders as having no authority.

“In any case, this decision can’t be put into effect as Mr Gbagbo is no longer president, so we don’t need to be concerned with it. We find this act of a beaten president entirely ridiculous…,” he told AFP.

France has said in recent days that its contingent, known as “Licorne”, could be used to ensure the safe departure of the 15,000 French civilians living in Ivory Coast if the situation turns dangerous.

The UNOCI mission deployed in 2004 to help end a civil war between Gbagbo’s southern forces and northern rebels dubbed the New Forces. The rebels now back Ouattara and Gbagbo’s order will increase fears of a new conflict.

“Play time is over,” declared Charles Ble Goude, Gbagbo’s minister for youth, who has been under UN sanctions since 2006 for “acts of violence by street militias, including beatings, rapes and extrajudicial killings”.

“We are going to defend the sovereignty of our country until the last drop of our sweat. I urge all Ivorians to make themselves ready for this combat. We are going to totally liberate our country,” he told AFP.

On Friday, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy called for Gbagbo to stand down, warning he and his powerful wife Simone face individual international sanctions, including an EU visa ban and asset freeze.

“If Sarkozy plans military intervention, he’d better be ready to kill a lot of Ivorians,” Ble Goude warned at his rally.

On Thursday, street clashes between pro-Gbagbo security forces and Ouattara supporters left between 11 and 30 people dead, and the Red Cross has treated almost 550 wounded since the start of the stand-off.

The UN Security Council is to discuss the Ivory Coast crisis on Monday and take a scheduled vote on whether to extend its current mandate which ends on December 31.

Source: SGGP

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