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U.N. Tight-Lipped on Use of Military Force in Cote d’Ivoire

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 7 2011 (IPS) - As the continuing political stalemate threatens to unleash a civil war in Cote d’Ivoire, the United Nations is taking an increasingly aggressive stance in the widening standoff with the West African nation.

UN peacekeeping chief (centre) visits troops providing security for president-elect Alassane Ouattara at the Hotel Golf. Credit: UN Photo/Basile Zoma

UN peacekeeping chief (centre) visits troops providing security for president-elect Alassane Ouattara at the Hotel Golf. Credit: UN Photo/Basile Zoma

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has routinely opted for quiet, low-keyed diplomacy in political trouble spots such as North Korea, Sudan, Palestine and Myanmar (Burma), has been vociferously outspoken in condemning President Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down after his defeat in the Nov. 28 elections.

In a forceful out-of-character statement, Ban told reporters last week: “The efforts of Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters to retain power and flout the public cannot be allowed to stand.”

“I call on him to step down and allow his elected successor to assume office without further hindrance,” he declared, even as Gbagbo continues to defy both the United Nations and the international community.

The winner of the presidential election, Alassane Ouattara, remains marooned in a hotel surrounded and protected by troops who are part of a 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force, which is to be beefed up with an additional 2,000 troops shortly.

The secretary-general’s unusually blunt statement was triggered by the fact that he has political cover and strong backing not only from the Security Council but also from the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union.

All four bodies are supportive of Ouattara and have duly recognised his electoral victory in a U.N.-certified election.

“This is one of the rare moments when there is a consensus in the international community that an election’s results are being ignored and that actions need to be taken,” Bill Fletcher, Jr., a member of the editorial board at, told IPS.

Military action, however, is a drastic step in light of the ramifications not only for the people of Cote d’Ivoire but also to neighbouring countries where the violence may spill over, he warned.

“What is at stake at the moment is not the political character of the specific individuals in question – Ouattara vs. Gbagbo – but whether the results of an election, that most observers deemed to be fair, are to be recognised,” said Fletcher.

Addressing reporters last week, Ban declared: “Let me say clearly and directly: any attempt to obstruct U.N. operations or blockade the Golf Hotel is totally unacceptable.”

And any attack on U.N. forces, he said, will be an attack on the international community.

“I emphasise: those responsible for the loss of civilian lives will be held accountable,” he declared.

The secretary-general’s outspoken stand, however, still falls short of any support for a forceful ouster of a president clinging onto power despite his electoral defeat.

Ban has remained tight-lipped over growing speculation that ECOWAS may intervene militarily to dethrone Gbagbo and install Ouattara.

Any such move is likely to trigger a civil war in a country that already suffered a similar conflict in 2002.

Asked for a reaction, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters that ECOWAS and the African Union are very closely involved in seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

“The primary aim is to peacefully resolve this. And for Mr. Gbagbo to step down, in line with the will of the people who voted in Cote d’Ivoire clearly for Mr. Ouattara,” he said.

Pressed on the question of military force, he would only say: “At the moment, what we are saying is that our focus is on the efforts that have been undertaken by ECOWAS and the African Union to seek a peaceful solution to this, and to resolve it peacefully.”

Meanwhile, the secretary-general plans to send a request to the Security Council next week calling for an additional 2,000 troops for the U.N. Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI).

In a statement released Thursday, the United Nations said the new troops will fill the gap currently bridged by peacekeepers from the U.N. Mission in neighbouring Liberia (UNMIL) deployed on a temporary basis for last month’s presidential elections.

Gbagbo, on the other hand, has publicly called for UNOCI’s departure: a demand the United Nations has rejected.

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