UN Deplores Ambush of Peacekeepers in Côte d’Ivoire

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–12 January 2011 – The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire today spoke out against an ambush of its peacekeepers by armed forces loyal to outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo in the country’s capital of Abidjan overnight.

A team made up of UN police and military personnel was coming back from patrol in the suburb of Abobo when shots were fired at it, prompting it to return fire, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) said in a statement.

“The mission notes that this ambush occurred one day after the forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo blocked and looted a UNOCI convoy on its way to re-supply the Golf Hotel,” UNOCI said, adding that three peacekeepers were slightly injured in the overnight incident.

The West African country, the world’s biggest cocoa producer, has been in turmoil since early December when the Mr. Gbagbo refused leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara’s UN-certified victory in November’s run-off election. Mr. Ouattara, who has set up base in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, has been recognized by the international community as the West African country’s duly elected president.

UNOCI also reported that yesterday, several hundred men in black uniforms reportedly began shooting and forcing residents out of houses in Abobo. The mission made contact at the political level with Mr. Gbagbo’s team, but when two UNOCI patrols tried to reach the area, they were blocked by people manning checkpoints.

Amid daily reports of incitement to hatred and violence, human rights violations, attacks against civilians and peacekeepers, there are fears that country could return to civil war. The polls last year were meant to help reunify the nation, which was split by civil war in 2002 into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. An estimated some 25,000 Ivorian refugees fled into neighbouring Liberia, with some 600 people arriving there each day, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will send a request to the Security Council next week for between 1,000 and 2,000 additional forces for UNOCI, which currently has nearly 9,000 peacekeepers. The new “blue helmets” will fill the gap currently bridged by peacekeepers from the UN peacekeeping mission in neighbouring Liberia, who were deployed on a temporary basis for the elections.