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Tension builds as UN extends mandate, urges Gbagbo to go

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-12-21

The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to extend its peacekeeping mandate in Ivory Coast for six months and renewed calls for the departure of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who is locked in a bitter power struggle over the presidency.

The UN Security Council unanimously voted on Monday to extend its peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, ensuring that the almost nine thousand-strong force will remain in the troubled West African nation until June 2011, in defiance of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his claim to the presidency.

In a statement read on state television Saturday, a Gbagbo spokeswoman said that the UN peacekeepers and another 900 French troops supporting them should leave the country immediately.

Gbagbo says the UN and France are biased, and have favoured his rival Alassane Ouattara in the tense tug-of-war for the presidency that followed the disputed Nov. 28 election run-off.

The international community, including most African countries, has recognised Ouattara as the poll's legitimate winner.

“The Security Council’s resolution is important because it is a way to show Laurent Gbagbo that he is no longer Ivory Coast’s president and therefore no longer has the authority to demand the departure of the UN peacekeepers,” explained Emmanuel Saint-Martin, FRANCE 24’s correspondent at the United Nations in New York.

The Security Council said on Monday it would consider sending additional UN soldiers to reinforce the troops already present in Ivory Coast.

Tensions rise

The escalating tension between Gbagbo loyalists and the UN stretched beyond statements at the weekend as masked gunmen opened fire on a UN base in Abidjan, though no one was harmed.

“Armed men have been coming to the personal houses of United Nations employees, asking them to leave and searching their houses under the pretext of looking for arms,” UN Special Representative Choi Young-jin said at a news conference in Abidjan.

A spokesman for Gbagbo in Paris said on Monday that he doubted soldiers or those supporting Gbagbo would be involved in such tactics.

About 800 UN peacekeepers are protecting a hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara is holed up. They are, in turn, encircled by the Ivorian army, which has stayed loyal to Gbagbo.

“The UN forces’ resources are very limited. Concerning Ouattara’s protection, there is a fear that clashes could break out in the coming days,” said Saint-Martin.

The US State Department on Sunday ordered most of its personnel to leave Ivory Coast because of the deteriorating security situation and growing anti-Western sentiment.

Fear on the streets

The continuing stand-off has sparked street clashes between supporters of the rival camps in which more than 50 civilians have been killed, according to international observers.

The UN said it has received hundreds of reports of people being abducted from their homes at night by armed assailants in military uniforms.

According to FRANCE 24’s correspondents in Abidjan, residents have organised nightly security rounds in neighbourhoods that supported Ouattara in the election. Barricades have been set up, but the watchmen have no weapons to protect themselves.

“The international community needs to back up its words with actions. I’m worried about my two children and my family. This is bad, very bad, they are going to kill us, those people are going to kill us,” said a tearful resident who asked to remain unanimous.

Date created : 2010-12-21


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