Ivory Coast heads for bloody end

2011-04-02 15:24

Laurent Gbagbo’s declared defiance of all international calls for him to step down as president of the Ivory Coast could make for a bloody final outcome.

With his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, now in control of most of the country including Abidjan, Gbagbo and forces still loyal to him are holding out against sustained and intensified attacks on the fortified presidential palace, which is strategically situated on a small peninsula in the county’s biggest city.

Gbagbo’s Paris-based spokesperson, Alain Troussaint, told news agencies that Gbagbo would “go to the end”.

He refused to confirm whether the defeated president was still holed up in the palace.

“He will not leave the Ivory Coast. He is in a secure place on Ivorian territory.”

With the final stand-off in Abidjan coming to a head, fears are growing for the safety of Ivorians caught up in enclaves all over the country where Gbagbo’s forces have not yet been dislodged by Ouattara’s Republican Guard.
With most of Abidjan now deserted by civilians fleeing the city, fighting is concentrated around the presidential palace and the main TV station, where pro-Gbagbo forces are holed up.

Ouattara is now fully and officially recognised by the international community as the head of state.

In presidential broadcasts on TV he has repeatedly called for Gbagbo to step down.

The special broadcasts, emanating from the down-town hotel which Ouattara has been forced to use as a headquarters, included a parade of senior military and police officers who have defected from Gbagbo and declared their loyalty to Ouattara on camera.

This includes the chief of staff of the army, General Phillipe Mangou, who with his wife and five children are still holed up in the residence of the South African ambassador to the Ivory Coast, Zodwa Lallie, where they sought refuge on Wednesday night.

Mangou and the head of the Ivorian infantry, General Firman Detoh Letho, who was shot dead by his bodyguard earlier this week, are thought to be the main commanders who have restricted Ouattara to his hotel HQ for the past four months.

The South African government is expected to make a full statement on Mangou’s future on Tuesday. Consultations with “relevant parties” are ongoing, the international relations department said earlier.

Abidjan is being patrolled by French and UN forces to prevent looting, while UN helicopters have taken control of the airspace over Abidjan.

The International Red Cross issued a statement on Friday claiming that up to 800 people had been massacred in the vicinity of Duékoué in the west of the country.

UN forces were rushed to an area where 10 000 people have taken refuge in a church compound.

In Abidjan itself, French forces have moved 500 civilian foreigners into their garrison compound for their own safety.

French and UN forces have taken control of all major airports, closing all land and sea borders.

Ouattara has now ordered the airports open to countries wanting to evacuate their nationals.

New concerns are that both sides of the conflict are resorting to revenge attacks against civilians.

The UN has received information that victorious Ouattara soldiers calling themselves the Invisible Commando are guilty of human rights abuses in particular.

The UN human rights office today urged forces loyal to Ouattara to show restraint, after reports suggested they have been committing serious rights violations during their advance towards Abidjan.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in Geneva that he had received “unconfirmed but worrying” reports of human rights violations committed by the pro-Ouattara forces during their advance towards Abidjan.

“Reports suggest they have engaged in looting and extortion, as well as serious human rights violations such as abductions, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of civilians,” he said. ­

– Africa Desk

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