NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–14 January 2011 – The United Nations has “concrete intelligence” that the former Côte d’Ivoire president, who refuses to step down despite his election defeat, is inciting violence against its peacekeepers and his own countrymen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, again raising the prospect of a trial by the International Criminal Court.
“Let me be perfectly clear: attacks on civilians or international peacekeepers constitute crimes under international law,” he told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York, a day after warning that perpetrators will be held accountable for their acts. “So is incitement to commit such crimes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has declared its intention to open investigations.”
The West African country, the world’s biggest cocoa producer, has been in turmoil since early December when Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara’s UN-certified and internationally-recognized victory in November’s run-off election.
“The facts on the ground are indisputable. Cote d’Ivoire has a legitimately elected president – Alassane Ouattara. The previous incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, must stand aside,” Mr. Ban reiterated today both at the news conference and in an earlier speech to the 192-member General Assembly, as he outlined the UN’s priorities for 2011.
He stressed his deep concern at the growing number of violent incidents targeting civilians and 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.
The elections were meant to be the culminating point of this process. Mr. Gbagbo has demanded UNOCI’s departure, which the UN has rejected, and Mr. Ban has asked the Security Council for between 1,000 and 2,000 additional forces for the mission.
Two UNOCI vehicles were burned and three others damaged yesterday in the latest bout of violence against the peacekeeping mission, which is protecting the new president and his Government in the Golf Hotel in the commercial capital of Abidjan. Mr. Gbagbo has refused to vacate the presidential palace despite recognition of Mr. Ouattara by the UN, the African Union (AU), regional West African States and many other countries.
“We have credible accounts of grave human rights violations,” Mr. Ban told the news conference. “Apart from the blockade of the Golf Hotel and the attempt to constrict supplies to the UN mission – in itself unacceptable – we have concrete intelligence that the former president and those around him are inciting their followers to violence, both against the UN and their own countrymen.”
Mr. Ban, who has repeatedly deplored a campaign of hatred and incitement by State radio, television and other media loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, again called on all sides today to exercise maximum restraint. “I state once again in the strongest possible terms: those committing or inciting acts of violence will be held responsible,” he said.
“We continue to patrol and protect civilians. We continue to protect the Ouattara Government. We continue to investigate reports of human rights abuses. The United Nations will not be deterred from its duty in Cote d’Ivoire. We will not be intimidated.”
The Security Council is now discussing Mr. Ban’s proposals for additional troops and he asked the Assembly “to support us fully in the robust execution of our mandated responsibilities.”
These include not only monitoring the ceasefire that ended the 2002 civil war and supporting “open, free, fair and transparent elections,” but also protecting UN personnel, installations and equipment, ensuring their freedom of movement and protecting “civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.”
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos warned yesterday 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 some 17,500 others are internally displaced in the west of the country, the majority of them pregnant and nursing women, and school-age children.
In both Liberia and 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.