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Ban Ki-moon raises fears of Ivorian civil war

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-02-26

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned the Ivory Coast could spiral into civil war Friday, as fighting between supporters loyal to rival claimants to the presidency intensified.

AFP - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday warned that Ivory Coast was on the brink of civil war as fighting surged between backers of rival claimants to the presidency.

Police loyal to outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, meanwhile, accused the United Nations mission in the country of killing a police officer in the central town of Daloa on Friday, according to a statement read on public television.

The officer was allegedly shot in the back while trying to negotiate the release of three demonstrators taken "hostage" by the United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (Onuci)," said a spokesman for the Defence and Security Forces. A UN spokesman categorically denied the accusation.

Fighters from the New Forces (FN), a former rebel group that still controls the country's north, seized two towns in a zone held by Gbagbo, who has refused to relinquish power after losing November elections.

The FN, which is allied with internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara, occupied the town of Zouan-Hounien near the border with Liberia as well as Bin Houye, further south, according to witnessess.

Also Friday, fighting erupted in the political capital Yamassoukro, where patrols of the Defence and Security Forces (FDS) loyal to Gbagbo came under fire, unleashing a gunbattle that lasted several hours.

Residents said several people had been injured in the clashes, but no detailed casualty toll was available.

"These developments mark a disturbing escalation which draws the country closer to the brink of reigniting civil war," Ban said in a statement.

Ivory Coast has been gripped by increasing unrest since a presidential poll on November 28, which much of the international community acknowledges was won by opposition leader Ouattara.

But Gbagbo has clung to power backed by the FDS, and late Friday he declared a nighttime curfew for the weekend.

An FDS member said Yamoussoukro's military school of Zambakro had been put on alert following the clashes.

Yamoussoukro, the political capital founded by the "father of the nation", Felix Houphouet-Boigny, is headquarters of the FDS's operations centre.

Clashes also occurred Friday in a pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood of the economic capital Abidjan in the country's south, where youths battled Ouattara supporters who burned a bus, residents said.

Small groups of Young Patriots armed with clubs and stones prevented public transport minibuses thought to be owned by Ouattara from moving in an area that became pratically deserted. Most of the shops were closed.

The leader of the Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude, told a rally of his supporters Friday that they should organise themselves into local committees to resist the UN Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI).

UN soldiers protecting Ouattara are enemies of the Ivorian people, the fiery youth leader told about 3,000 people gathered in the pro-Gbagbo Yopougon neighbourhood, while adding, however: "We don't want to fall into the trap of civil war."

Ban, in his statement, said he "deplores the latest threats by Mr Gbagbo’s camp against the United Nations, including the recent call to impede the movement of peacekeepers in Abidjan beginning today."

Ivory Coast has been divided in two since late 2002, with the FN holding the north and Gbagbo loyalists in the south.

The November election, monitored by the United Nations, was intended to be a step on the way to reuniting Africa's leading cocoa producer, a former economic powerhouse of the region.

But in a statement Thursday, Gbagbo's government accused the United Nations of a "complicit attitude" favouring Ouattara, by allowing "rebels" from his camp to infiltrate several parts of Abidjan.

Meanwhile Friday, thousands of people were leaving the Abobo district, which has in recent days seen violent clashes between forces loyal to Gbagbo and an armed militia.

Abobo, a pro-Ouattara neighbourhood, was described by residents as a war zone with buildings shattered by rockets and FDS armour deployed at strategic positions.

As a result of clashes some 5,000 Ivoirians fled to Liberia in the past 24 hours, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRCR) said Friday.

"Until the middle of last week roughly 100 people crossed the border every day. But with clashes in Abidjan and the country's western region this week, there has been a sudden and worrisome displacement," it added.

Date created : 2011-02-26


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