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CÔTE D’IVOIRE: BAN WARNS OF CONSEQUENCES FOR THOSE ATTACKING UN PEACEKEEPERS

By BBC

13 January - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today warned forces loyal to the outgoing Côte d'Ivoire president, who has refused to step down despite his election defeat, that they will be held accountable for their criminal attacks on United Nations peacekeepers in the country.

At the same time, the UN humanitarian chief stressed that the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of Ivorians were threatened by the deteriorating crisis sparked by Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara's UN-certified and internationally-recognized victory in November's run-off election.

In a statement issued by his spokesman, Mr. Ban voiced deep concern that regular and irregular forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo have begun to attack and burn vehicles belonging to the nearly 9,000-strong UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), which has been supporting efforts over the past seven years to reunify a country split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.

“Beginning this morning, there have been a total of six incidents involving such attacks in Abidjan [the commercial capital] where a UNOCI military vehicle was burned. A doctor and the driver of an ambulance targeted in one of the attacks were injured,” the statement said. UNOCI noted that two vehicles were burned and three others damaged.

Mr. Ban also strongly condemned an armed attack yesterday on a UN convoy in the Abobo quarter of Abidjan, as well as the continuing use of the State broadcasting corporation by Gbagbo loyalists to instigate violence against the UN mission, including false allegations that peacekeepers are extending active support to forces supporting Mr. Ouattara.

In the light of Mr. Gbagbo's refusal to vacate the presidential palace despite the recognition of Mr. Ouattara's election victory by the UN, the African Union (AU) and many countries, the new president and his Government are currently based in the Golf Hotel under UNOCI protection.

“The Secretary-General once again warns those responsible for organizing and carrying out such attacks that they will be held accountable,” today's statement concluded. “He stresses that both attacks on peacekeepers and destruction of assets deployed for purposes of protecting civilians constitute crimes under international law.”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos warned today that the humanitarian consequences of the violence in Côte d'Ivoire will rapidly worsen if the political crisis is not urgently resolved.

Over 23,500 Ivorians have already fled to neighbouring countries over the past five weeks, the vast majority to Liberia, amid growing fear and insecurity, while 16,000 others are internally displaced in the west of the country, the majority of them pregnant and nursing women, and school-age children.

“A peaceful and rapid solution to the crisis is critical for the people of Côte d'Ivoire and for the region as a whole,” Ms. Amos said in a news release. “It is important that all parties refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, hate speech and incitement to violence to ensure that the situation does not escalate any further.”

Humanitarian organizations are doing their utmost to ensure that aid reaches the needy, especially women, children and the elderly, as quickly as possible. In Liberia and in western Côte d'Ivoire, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have already started distributing food and non-food items.

Aid and staff are also being pre-positioned in other neighbouring countries. Over the past few weeks, contingency plans have been extensively revised to ensure the UN and its partners stand ready to respond in case a major humanitarian crisis unfolds.

“To ensure effective implementation of humanitarian activities, it is essential that a conducive environment is created and maintained,” Ms. Amos said. “There are continuing allegations of serious human rights violations from around the country. The violence has already caused a 10-fold increase in internal displacement in the space of a few days, showing how quickly a political crisis can have grave humanitarian consequences.”

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Ndolamb Ngokwey, told a news conference in Abidjan that 85 tonnes of food were on the way today to the western region where most of the displaced are seeking refuge.

UNOCI Human Rights Division Director Simon Munzu, meanwhile, said the country was not on the brink of genocide as some have said but it was possible it could move towards genocide.

“Whatever our political opinion, our ethnicity, our religion, whether we are foreigners or Ivorians, I believe that we must remain vigilant to avoid, to prevent, to impede that we arrive at a genocide,” he added.

There are similarities between current phenomena in Côte d'Ivoire, such as political intransigence and highly partisan media, and those that led to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which 800,000 people are estimated to have been murdered, he noted.

November's run-off election was meant to be the culminating point of the agreement that ended the 2002 civil war but the situation has deteriorated seriously since Mr. Gbagbo's rejection of the result. He has demanded UNOCI's departure, which the UN has rejected, and Mr. Ban is expected to ask the Security Council for between 1,000 and 2,000 additional forces for the mission.