Ivory Coast’s neighbours has urged the United Nations to toughen the mandate of its 12 000 peacekeepers there and apply harsh sanctions on the inner circle of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.
The move added to pressure on the world body to do more to end a violent post-election stand-off in the top cocoa producer that has already claimed hundreds of lives and is veering toward all-out civil war. France earlier urged a tougher U.N. Role. Gbagbo claimed victory in a disputed November election despite U.N.-certified results showing that he lost to his rival Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo says those results were rigged. Yet African states, the United States and the European Union have all recognized Ouattara as winner and the ECOWAS regional bloc has repeatedly said force may be needed to remove Gbagbo.
“(ECOWAS) requests the U.N. Security Council to strengthen the mandate of the U.N. operation in Ivory Coast enabling the mission to use all necessary means to protect life and property and to facilitate the immediate transfer of power to Mr. Alassane Ouattara,” a communique issued after a summit said. “(It) also requests the U.N. Security Council to adopt more stringent international targeted sanctions against Mr. Laurent Gbagbo and his associates,” said the statement after talks in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
It did not spell out what moves it expected but U.N. measures typically include assets freezes and travel bans. Gbagbo and his senior officials are subject to a range of EU and U.S. sanctions aimed at cutting off his access to funds. The U.N. Security Council was due to meet on Friday to discuss Ivory Coast and possible sanctions against Gbagbo. They echoed earlier calls by ex-colonial ruler France, which has troops in the country but has ruled out intervening itself. “I think it (the U.N. mission) should … play its role more efficiently because it has a mandate that allows it to use force,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France 2 television.
U.N. diplomats and Ivory Coast’s pro-Ouattara U.N. envoy have also called for a more robust U.N. role. However, U.N. officials say there are limits to what more the force can do. The African Union reaffirmed its recognition of Ouattara as president this month after weeks of mediation. “It seems to me the two parties were waiting for an African Union decision before really going to a civil war,” AU President Jean Ping told reporters in Paris, adding that a military intervention might be the only way out. “I’m afraid if there is no possibility of peaceful solution and then force might intervene,” he said.
A U.N. human rights officer said forces loyal to Gbagbo were shelling neighbourhoods seen as pro-Ouattara, and had killed 50 people in past week, bringing the confirmed death toll from the conflict to 462. Another 450,000 people have fled their homes. A resident of the Abidjan neighbourhood of Abobo — scene of some of the worst fighting — said on Thursday he could hear sustained automatic and heavy weapons fire in the area.
“(Gbagbo’s) special forces have been firing and launching explosives indiscriminately on part of the population suspected to be pro-Ouattara,” Guillaume N’Gefa, a U.N. human rights official based in Abidjan told a news conference. “We have registered … from these indiscriminate attacks 50 deaths, including five children, and many dozens of wounded.”
Gbagbo’s government has repeatedly denied allegations its forces have used heavy weapons against civilians, and accuses the U.N. mission of siding with “rebels” trying to oust him. The conflict and the impact of sanctions have strangled supplies of Ivorian cocoa exports, lifting prices for the raw material in chocolate on international markets.
The U.N. mission said earlier this week it was monitoring efforts by Gbagbo’s camp to repair an MI-24 attack helicopter and ready some BM21 multiple rocket launchers, and would “take action” within its mandate against any attempt to use them. ECOWAS also put out a statement condemning Gbagbo’s camp for hate speech against West African immigrants, who Human Rights Watch (HRW) says have been killed by pro-Gbagbo youth militias.