NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–21 January 2011 – The United Nations today rebuffed efforts by forces loyal to Côte d’Ivoire’s former president, who refuses to step down despite his electoral defeat, to stop and search UN vehicles.
“The call by the Ivorian defence and security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo to stop and search United Nations vehicles is a serious violation of the Status of Forces Agreement and Security Council resolution 1962 (2010) and therefore unacceptable,” spokesman Martin Nesirky told a news briefing in New York.
He was referring to the various terms under which the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) was sent to the West African country after civil war in 2002 divided it into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.
On Wednesday the Council authorized the immediate reinforcement of the nearly 9,000-strong peacekeeping force with 2,000 additional troops and three armed helicopters as UN personnel and civilians face mounting attacks from forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, who refuses to step down despite the internationally-recognized victory of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in November’s run-off elections.
These were meant to be a culminating point of a peace process which UNOCI is mandated to monitor. It is also entrusted with protecting its own personnel as well as civilians and ensuring its freedom of movement.
But Mr. Gbagbo has called for UNOCI’s withdrawal, which the UN has rejected, while the media under his control have mounted a propaganda campaign against the mission, and ethnic fighting between groups from the opposing camps in the west of the country has driven some 50,000 people from their homes.
Mr. Nesirky today condemned the continuing use of the State broadcasting corporation to disseminate false information about the UN and its peacekeeping mission, as well as the continued obstruction of UNOCI’s legitimate actions to implement its mandate.
He reiterated that attacks on civilians or international peacekeepers constitute crimes under international law, as does incitement to commit such crimes. Those engaged in such activity will be held responsible, he said. The number of those known to have died in the post-electoral violence since last month has risen to 260, with 68 people missing, UN officials reported.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and head of UNOCI, Y. J. Choi, has said the reinforcements authorized by the Council will provide a “rapid reaction capability” essential for the protection of civilians both in Abidjan, where Gbagbo loyalists have launched attacks, and in the country’s west, scene of the ethnic fighting.
Senior UN officials have called for urgent action to prevent this fighting from degenerating into genocide, warning that though this has not yet occurred, the elements for it are present, such as identity-related conflicts over national, racial and religious affiliations.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that some 30,000 Ivorians had fled to neighbouring Liberia, while 18,000 people are displaced internally in western parts of the country.
It welcomed recognition by Guinea and Liberia of people fleeing Côte d’Ivoire as refugees and the fact that a number of European countries have halted returns, including those of failed asylum-seekers. It called on governments worldwide to follow suit and suspend all returns pending improvements in the security and human rights situation.
Meanwhile, a seven-day, UN-backed vaccination campaign against yellow fever is scheduled to get underway tomorrow, targeting more than 830,000 adults and children in four rural districts, where there have been at least 66 recorded cases, 25 of them fatal, since November.
The UN, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have all been trying to resolve the post-electoral crisis, demanding that Mr. Gbagbo step down, but it remains deadlocked, with Mr. Gbagbo proposing a power-sharing arrangement, which Mr. Choi has said would be a bad precedent in view of his clear electoral defeat.