Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo readying rockets, helicopter: UN

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The UN peacekeeping mission to Ivory Coast said Laurent Gbagbo’s forces were readying an attack helicopter and multiple rocket launchers and condemned the growing use of heavy weapons against civilians.

Its statement came as Gbagbo’s rival Alassane Ouattara scolded the mission for not doing enough to protect civilians, saying Gbagbo’s security forces had killed more than 800 people since a contested November election in the world’s top cocoa grower.

Gbagbo’s spokesman was not immediately available to comment. But the International Crisis Group think tank said warnings of the country returning to war had already materialised, Reuters reports.

The power struggle between the two has degenerated into armed conflict, with gun battles and heavy weapons fire in the main city Abidjan and the west, across a north-south ceasefire line in place since the end of the last civil war in 2003.
“The United Nations … is extremely concerned about the increased use of heavy weapons, including machine guns and mortars, by special forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo’s camp against the civilian population in Abidjan,” it said.

The UN mission said Gbagbo’s men were repairing an MI-24 attack helicopter and readying BM21 multiple rocket launchers.
“ONUCI (the UN mission) is closely monitoring these heavy weapons which pose a grave threat to the civilian population. The mission strongly warns this camp that it will not tolerate any attempt to use these weapons and will take action against this in keeping with its mandate,” the statement said.

UN military spokesman Rais Chakib declined to give any details on what action would be taken.

At least 25 people were killed and more than 60 wounded when pro-Gbagbo forces fired a series of mortar rounds into Abidjan’s northern Abobo district last Thursday, including one that exploded in a busy marketplace, the U.N. mission has said.

Gbagbo’s camp has denied being behind the attack.
“WAR BEGUN”

The November election was meant to reunite the country, divided since a 2002-3 war, but it remains divided and as volatile as ever.
“Ivory Coast is no longer on the brink of civil war: it has already begun,” the Brussels-based ICG said in an open letter on Tuesday to regional West African bloc ECOWAS, which it said should be “actively preparing to oust his regime by all necessary means before it is too late.”
“The future Gbagbo proposes for his country is war, anarchy and violence, with ethnic, religious and xenophobic dimensions,” it said, pointing to systematic killings of Ouattara supporters and a propaganda campaign by state TV blaming foreign West Africans, like Malians and Burkinabes, for the rebellion.

Gbagbo’s camp did not comment but has denied inciting hate.

Ouattara’s camp said on Monday that 832 civilians had been shot dead, 1,808 wounded, 876 arrested and 100 were missing.

The mission has a mandate to use lethal force to protect itself or the civilian population, but diplomats are concerned it is too reluctant to use it, for fear of clashes with pro-Gbagbo forces they say are doing much of the killing.

Ouattara’s forces have also been accused of killing some civilians, as well as executing pro-Gbagbo soldiers.
“The government regrets that the humanitarian assistance and protection of the population that it requested from ONUCI has not materialised on the ground,” his parallel government operating out of an Abidjan hotel said in a statement.

The UN figure for confirmed deaths from both camps since the crisis is around 400 Ivorians. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since the disputed poll.
“ONUCI are engaging all they have to protect civilians. They are patrolling day and night, doing all they can with the materials they have,” the U.N.’s Chakib told Reuters by phone.

Thousands of youth supporters of Gbagbo answered a call to join the army this week, adding to fears that the violent power struggle risks sending the country back to civil war.



The UN retracted claims Gbabgo was seeking to import more MI-24 attack helicopters from Belarus late last month.