By United Nations

17 January - Continuing his efforts to ensure that Côte d'Ivoire's rightful new president assumes office despite his predecessor's refusal to step down, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held further contacts with African regional and continental leaders over the weekend.

Among those with whom he conferred was Jean Ping, the Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission, spokesman Martin Nesirky said today.

The UN, the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have been trying to persuade Laurent Gbagbo to leave the presidential palace after opposition leader Alassane Ouattara's UN-certified and internationally-recognized victory in November's run-off election.

The vote was meant to be a culminating point in reunifying a country split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north, but the resulting turmoil, much of it reportedly involving Gbagbo loyalist forces attacking civilians, has displaced tens of thousands of people, mainly in the west of the country.

Not only has Mr. Gbagbo refused to step down but he has also demanded the withdrawal of the nearly 9,000-strong UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), which has been supporting the stabilization and reunification efforts over the past seven years – a demand the UN has categorically rejected.

Mr. Ban has asked the Security Council for between 1,000 and 2,000 additional forces for the mission and today Mr. Nesirky said UNOCI was working under difficult circumstances but would not be deterred from fulfilling its mandate.

Among other assignments, it is currently protecting the new president and his Government in the Golf Hotel in the commercial capital of Abidjan. Two UNOCI vehicles were burned and three others damaged last week in the latest bout of violence against the mission.

Mr. Ban said last week the UN has “concrete intelligence” that Mr. Gbagbo is inciting violence against its peacekeepers and his own countrymen and he raised the prospect of a trial by the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Ndolamb Ngokwey, visited the western region over the weekend to assess the needs of nearly 20,000 people driven from their homes by the unrest. Ten tonnes of food, medicines, and blankets are due to arrive there shortly, Mr. Ngokwey said.

UN agencies are aiding nearly 25,000 other Ivorians who have fled to neighbouring countries over the past five weeks, the vast majority to Liberia.