French and UN helicopters targeted several of Gbagbo’s positions in Abidjan overnight Sunday, during an operation to eliminate heavy weapons used by his forces. The attack came a day after Gabagbo’s troops attacked the HQ of rival Alassane Ouattara.
AFP - UN and French forces in Ivory Coast attacked positions of troops loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo Sunday, a day after the base of his rival, UN-recognised president Alassane Ouattara, came under fire.
A spokesman for the UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) said its peacekeepers and France's Licorne force had fired on the positions in the main city Abidjan in a bid to destroy heavy weapons that were being used against civilians.
Missiles were fired at Gbagbo's residence shortly before 11:00 pm (2300 GMT), a source close to the operation said. The presidential palace and military camps were also targeted.
In New York, UN chief Ban Ki-moon confirmed he had ordered the attack.
He repeated UN accusations that the Gbagbo camp had used an offer of talks he made last week "to regroup their forces and redeploy heavy weapons".
His forces had since resumed heavy weapon attacks on civilians, on the UN peacekeepers' base and on Ouattara's base at the Golf Hotel, he added.
"These actions are unacceptable and cannot continue," the UN secretary general said in a statement.
Witnesses said at least four missiles had been fired towards the residence and three helicopters had fired on the presidential compound.
Ouattara said late Sunday he had asked the UN to "neutralise the heavy weapons" of Gbagbo.
The continued use of heavy weapons against civilians, ambassadors' residences, the UN mission and Ouattara's headquarters at the Golf Hotel "dangerously imperils the lives of the civilian population and their legitimate expectations of peace," he said in a statement.
Gbagbo's spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, accused France, Ivory Coast's former colonial master, of trying to "assassinate" the incumbent leader.
"There is no other goal (but) to assassinate the head of state, all the rest is just pretext," he told AFP.
More than 1,000 people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday in support of Gbagbo and to denounce France's "interference" in Ivory Coast.
Residents had earlier reported renewed heavy weapons fire near the presidential palace, the scene of fierce fighting between rival forces since early April.
Firing was also heard in the nearby Cocody district, where Gbagbo is sheltering in a bunker in his presidential residence.
Plateau and Cocody districts are largely controlled by forces loyal to Gbagbo, who has refused to leave the presidency after losing November elections to Ouattara, internationally recognised as the new leader.
In his statement Sunday, Ban said: "I am particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation across the country and about human rights abuses.
"Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence -- the fighting must stop. Mr Gbagbo needs to step aside immediately," he added.
But Ouattara is under pressure over allegations that his forces committed atrocities in the west of the country as they advanced on Abidjan late last month.
Human Rights Watch said Saturday they killed or raped hundreds of people and burned villages, citing new evidence of summary killings of Gbagbo supporters in the far west.
A top UN official said Sunday there were 85,000 displaced people in west Ivory Coast, with a "catastrophic" humanitarian situation especially in the town of Duekoue where "everybody is traumatised."
Ndolamb Ngokwey, humanitarian coordinator between the UN and NGOs, told AFP that more than 25,000 displaced people were still holed up in Duekoue's Catholic mission and 1,000 more in a Protestant mission.
French people returning to Paris late Sunday from Abidjan spoke of "chaos" in Ivory Coast's biggest city.
Salif Kone, 40, who had been away for two weeks helping his family in Cocody, told AFP: "It's hell, the apocalypse. In the streets you see charred bodies, burnt cars."
The conflict in the world's top cocoa producer has hit food supplies and sanitation amid cuts in water and power, with UN agencies warning of the threat of mass outbreaks of disease including a resurgence of cholera in Abidjan.
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