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TOP UN REFUGEE OFFICIAL URGES END TO IVORIAN STALEMATE TO EASE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

By United Nations
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10 February - The head of the United Nations refugee agency warned today of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Côte d'Ivoire and called for an immediate end to the political stalemate, which has led tens of thousands to flee their homes amid violence and uncertainty.

“The political blockade is becoming more deeply entrenched, causing the humanitarian situation to get worse and worse,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “People are very afraid,” he added in a statement.

Côte d'Ivoire has been in turmoil since early December when outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo refused leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara's UN-certified victory in November's run-off election. Mr. Ouattara has been recognized by the international community as the West African country's duly elected president.

Mr. Guterres said his office has registered at least 35,000 Ivorian refugees in neighbouring Liberia, and an equal number of internally displaced persons in western Côte d'Ivoire who are in dire need of shelter and other basic relief supplies.

Earlier this week, a plane chartered by the UN refugee agency, known as UNHCR, flew from the city of Liège in Belgium carrying 2,450 tents from the agency's emergency stockpile in Copenhagen and a convoy of trucks will transport 93 tons of relief aid from Accra, the capital of Ghana, to Abidjan, the Ivorian commercial capital.

“We face the risk of a possible massive displacement of Ivorians,” said Mr. Guterres, adding that the crisis could also have a negative impact on Liberia, which is recovering from the 1999-2003 civil war, as well as other countries in the region.

“Given these circumstances, I commend Liberia for its open-border policy and the Liberian people who have so generously opened their homes and shared their scarce resources,” said Mr. Guterres, who also appealed for international solidarity with the Ivorian people and the Liberians hosting them.

“Urgent international political action is necessary to resolve the stalemate and restore calm,” said the High Commissioner. “All citizens of Côte d'Ivoire should feel secure at home and no longer forced to flee in search of safety,” he added.

In a related development, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky today confirmed that a radio station run by the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) is still broadcasting despite a declaration by the country's National Council for Audiovisual Communication (CNCA) that the station had been suspended.

Mr. Nesirky told reporters in New York that UNOCI has not been informed of the decision to shut it down, and described the purported decision to close down UNOCI-FM as “another unacceptable attempt by Mr. Gbagbo's camp to disrupt the mandated operations of UNOCI.”

The head of the UNOCI-FM, Sylvain Semilinko, told UN Radio in an interview that the freedom of the press in that country has been suppressed.

“The whole media landscape in Côte d'Ivoire has been muzzled by Mr. Gbagbo's camp because they don't want freedom of speech, freedom of press. They don't want pluralism of opinion since the election. There is a clamp down on the media,” said Mr. Semilinko.

Meanwhile, UNOCI reported that it is carrying out its mandated tasks as usual, saying that it provided free medical care to 3,099 people, distributed 71,000 litres of water and conducted 4,822 patrols last month. Nearly 1,000 of those patrols were in Abidjan.