Ivory Coast army seals off pro-Ouattara area, bars UN

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Forces loyal to Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo have encircled the scene of clashes between them and supporters of his rival in Abidjan and blocked entry to UN peacekeepers, they said.

Six policemen were killed in the Abidjan suburb of Abobo on Wednesday in a second day of fighting between security forces loyal to Gbagbo and supporters of rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara that claimed at least five lives on Tuesday.

Ouattara’s parallel government, operating out of a hotel under guard of UN peacekeepers, said Gbagbo’s forces killed at least seven civilians in Wednesday’s clashes, Reuters reports.

The West African nation has been in crisis since a November 28 presidential election that both Ouattara and Gbagbo claim to have won. Ouattara was proclaimed winner by the country’s electoral commission and is widely regarded by foreign governments as having legitimately won the UN-certified poll.

But Gbagbo has refused to step down, with backing from the top court, and he still controls the security forces.

His army chief of staff Philippe Mangou said UN peacekeepers had been sent away from Abobo after midnight.
“According to our last report from the field, the head of the (UN) operation was turned around and went back,” Mangou told journalists after meeting Gbagbo at his residence.
“It was provocative and shameful on their part, because they are supposed to be an impartial force … to bring us peace but they have become something else,” he said.

The UN mission spokesman was not available for comment.

A UN captain, who could not be named, told Reuters that mission chief Y.J. Choi was in the convoy that was turned away.
“NOT A GOOD SIGN”

The election was meant to heal a nation divided into a government-held north and a rebel-run south by a 2002-3 war but has instead seemed only to deepen those divisions, with the rebels falling in behind Ouattara, a northerner.

Some of those police who died in Wednesday’s clashes were killed by a rocket propelled grenade attack on their patrol vehicles, Gbagbo’s interior ministry said. Mangou late on Wednesday said the military had been sent in to remove weapons from rebels and armed Ouattara sympathisers.
“It’s not a good sign,” said Ouattara spokesman Patrick Achi. “I hope they don’t go for more mass killing.”

Relations between the United Nations mission and Gbagbo have rapidly deteriorated since Choi recognised Ouattara as winner of the elections and persuaded world leaders almost unanimously to do the same, isolating him diplomatically.

Gbagbo has ordered the roughly 10 000 UN soldiers and police to leave the country, but the mission has refused, with the Security Council approving an increase in numbers by 2 000.

A UN statement said UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast were slightly wounded when their patrol was ambushed by pro-Gbagbo forces in Abidjan on Tuesday evening .

In another incident, pro-Gbagbo forces seized food trucks going to the hotel in which Ouattara is being besieged by them, and let their supporters loot the trucks on Wednesday , the UN mission said.

Violence has killed more than 200 people since the vote, and fear of further conflict has prompted more than 20,000 people to flee into neighbouring Liberia, according to UN figures.

The United Nations suspects many among the dead were killed by pro-Gbagbo security forces or allied militias in regular night-time raids on neighbourhoods, like Abobo, that are seen as pro-Ouattara. Hundreds of other people may have been abducted and taken to secret detention centres, UN officials fear.



Gbagbo’s camp denies this.