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U.N. Deplores Escalating Violence in Cote d’Ivoire

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 17 2010 (IPS) - U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his concern Thursday at the escalating violence in Cote d’Ivoire, where as many as 20 people were reportedly killed in clashes between security forces and opposition activists.

“[Ban] is deeply concerned about the continuing political stalemate,” said spokesperson Farhan Haq. He called the violence a “worrying turn”.

In his statement, Ban called upon the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, who has been backed by the country’s security forces, to accept defeat and step down so that his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, who was declared the winner in last month’s elections, can assume office.

Gbagbo, a 65-year-old former history teacher from southern Cote d’Ivoire, has been in power since 2000. Ouattara, a 68- year-old economist, is backed by the former rebels in the north of the country, and enjoys the support of Western powers and the United Nations.

A Christian, Gbagbo is considered to be a staunch nationalist. Cote d’Ivoire gained its independence in 1960. In 2002, an armed rebellion broke out in the Muslim- dominated north, which Ouattara represents.

The U.N. has 10,000 troops in Cote d’Ivoire. Some of them are currently guarding Ouattara and his supporters from the security forces. It has been reported that at one point Gbagbo indicated his willingness to form a coalition government, but the U.N. disagreed.

In response to a question about the possible formation of a coalition government, Haq told IPS that that offer was “not acceptable” because [Ouattara] “won the majority” of votes.

The current strife in Cote d’Ivoire began after the run-off election last month, when the electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner with 54.1 percent, compared to Gbagbo’s 45.9 percent.

“The former colonial powers are trying to handle this situation in an undiplomatic manner,” said a diplomatic source who did not want to be named. “They are not doing the right thing. It’s a resource-rich country. That is why they don’t want unity among its people.”

Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa. It also exports coffee, petroleum, cotton, bananas, pineapples, palm oil and fish.

Haq told IPS that Ban’s special representative in Cote d’Ivoire has increased his efforts to prevent further violence. “The secretary-general is in touch with him,” he said.

In an earlier statement, the U.N. moved towards imposing sanctions on any parties obstructing the peace process in Cote d’Ivoire. The U.N. has also set up a monitoring committee to record all incidents, behaviour, actions and decisions that block the peace process.

“The committee will propose concrete measures to be taken, including the imposition of immediate targeted sanctions,” Simon Munzu, the head of UNOCI’s Human Rights Division and chair of the Committee, told a news conference in Cote d’Ivoire.

Last month’s elections were meant to be the culmination of these efforts, but the poll generated a new crisis when the Constitutional Council threw out the decision of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) proclaiming Ouattara the victor, citing irregularities in his northern base, and awarded the election to Gbagbo.

The U.N. Security Council, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU), as well as many individual countries, have all recognised Ouattara as the rightful victor of the Nov. 28 run-off.

On Wednesday, the Security Council reiterated its readiness “to impose targeted measures against persons who attempt to threaten the peace process, obstruct the work of UNOCI and other international actors, or commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”

“See, to them sanctions is the solution, not the unity of the people,” said the African diplomatic source who did not want to be named. “You know sanctions don’t work, but those big Western powers that control the Council are all in favour of sanctions. They don’t want Ivoirians to be truly independent.”

Meanwhile, as violence continues in Cote d’Ivoire, rights groups deplored Thursday’s incidents and voiced their protest against the authorities’ crackdown on the demonstration in support of Ouattara. In a statement, Amnesty International said it was “appalled” by the “unjustified” use of force.

Amnesty said nine, not three people were killed in the shooting by security forces, according to witnesses. BBC has since reported that at least 20 people were killed.

On Tuesday, Ouattara called for mass street protests to seize state radio and government buildings, which are held by officials loyal to Gbagbo.

“Every effort must be made to prevent an escalation of violence. There is a very real threat that many more lives will be lost if the security forces continue to shoot at protesters indiscriminately,” said Amnesty International’s Salvatore Saguès.

“Côte d’Ivoire has never been so close to a resumption of civil war. Every effort must be done to prevent further escalation of violence that could have a huge impact on the country and on the whole sub-region pushing thousands of people to flee the country,” he said.

According to the French media, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo, had earlier indicated that he would prosecute those responsible if deadly violence broke out in Cote d’Ivoire after its disputed election.

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