Gbagbo loyalists attack UN staff
Abidjan - Supporters of embattled Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo on Thursday attacked at least four UN vehicles in Abidjan, with peacekeepers increasingly targeted in the deadly presidential stand-off.
UN patrols have previously come under attack from forces loyal to Gbagbo, who refuses to concede a November 28 presidential election to his besieged rival Alassane Ouattara, but not on the scale of Thursday's attacks.
"There were three vehicles which were burnt this morning in the Riviera II area," UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) spokesperson Kenneth Blackman told AFP, adding that Gbagbo loyalists were "certainly" responsible.
"There is no doubt about it," he said. A UN ambulance was also stoned on one of Abidjan's main bridges "by elements of the security forces of the Gbagbo camp," he said.
He was unable to say if there were any casualties in any of the attacks, which a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in Geneva could amount to war crimes.
"We are very concerned by these attacks," spokesperson Rupert Colville said. "Attacks on peacekeepers may be considered as war crimes."
Troops loyal to Gbagbo on Tuesday night attacked a UN patrol in Abidjan, wounding three peacekeepers.
That attack happened in Abidjan's tense Abobo district, largely loyal to Ouattara, where hundreds of Gbagbo's Defence and Security Forces (FDS) moved in early on Tuesday.
Gbagbo slapped a night-time curfew on the restive area on Wednesday night, after 11 people died in violence there.
Army chief of staff General Philippe Mangou has said the curfew would be used to "seek and flush out everbody behind these attacks," and could be extended to other Abidjan neighbourhoods.
Ouattara's camp on Thursday denied it had been encouraging what General Mangou called "endless calls for civil disobedience, armed insurrection and murder of all sorts".
"We reject these accusations," Ouattara's government spokesperson Patrick Achi told AFP.
"It's the security forces who once more have sought to provoke the peaceful population. We will not respond to these provocations."
The attacks on the UN came the day after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about reports that Gbagbo forces planned a new operation in Abobo.
"A curfew has been imposed and the forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo are attempting to force UNOCI military and police units dispatched to protect civilians to leave the area," Ban's office said in a statement.
"Any attacks on United Nations peacekeepers are unacceptable," the UN said, warning that those responsible "will be held responsible for their actions".
Ivory Coast's military remains loyal to Gbagbo, who the world says was beaten by Ouattara in November.
The UN says that over 200 people have died in the crisis so far, with African-led efforts to mediate the stand-off failing to make any visible progress.
The African Union's mediator, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is to return to Abidjan this weekend, he said following talks in Nairobi with AU Commission head Jean Ping.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) regional bloc has said it could use force to oust Gbagbo if he refuses to step down, but a statement from Odinga's office stressed again that this was a "last resort".
Ping and Odinga "expressed their disappointment after the U-turn of Mr Gbagbo who had undertaken to lift the blockade around the hotel where his adversary Mr Ouattara is staying," the statement said.
There are around 9 500 troops in UNOCI and the UN says they face increasing hostility. UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy has said he will request 1 000 to 2 000 extra troops in the coming days.
The UN says Gbagbo partisans have prevented it from investigating reports of mass graves filled with Ouattara supporters.
UN rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said another alleged mass grave had been reported at Issia, near the central-western town of Daloa but "the UN has not been able to verify its existence at this point," he said.