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UN force in Ivory Coast to be reinforced: official

By on March 5, 2011

U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast will be reinforced by 2,000 soldiers and have received two combat helicopters to face worsening violence between rival political factions, a U.N. official said.

The 8,000-strong United Nations force is trying to keep a stand-off between rival presidential claimants Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara from tipping into a civil war, as clashes between factions loyal to each side grow increasingly violent.

Some 800 peacekeepers are stationed around a hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara, widely recognised as the winner of an election last year, has been holed up for three months hoping that economic sanctions will weaken Gbagbo’s grip on power.

“What we are seeing is clearly an escalation of violence,” Choi Young-jin, a U.N. representative in Abidjan, told the Liberation newspaper in an interview published on Saturday.

“Since February 19, incidents have gotten more serious.”

On Thursday, Ivorian security forces loyal to presidential claimant Gbagbo shot dead seven women protesters, and the U.N. said at least 365 people had been killed in violence in the wake of a disputed general election last November 28.

Video footage of the all-women protest in the northern Abidjan suburb of Abobo, broadcast on Itele news channel, shows women screaming and at least two bloodied bodies on the road. An armoured vehicle marked “police” is visible in the background.

Young-jin said he was sending frequent patrols through the Abobo suburb. “We need to do everything we can to stop someone who wants to massacre civilians from making it happen,” he said.

As the conflict grows more entrenched, Young-jin said he had not yet called on a French military unit stationed nearby.

But he did need to beef up his force: “We are waiting on reinforcements of 2,000 blue helmets, and two of the three armed helicopters that we ordered have arrived,” he said.

Staying in control of the skies above Abidjan through air power was crucial to ensuring that the fragile situation did not degenerate into bloodshed, he added.

When asked if he thought a political outcome to the crisis was possible, Young-jin was pessimistic: “Since the beginning we’ve noted deep differences between the two parties. It will be very difficult to find common ground between the rivals.”

In the northern Ivory Coast stronghold of Bouake, power and water service was restored on Saturday, after being cut for a week during clashes, witnesses and residents said.

Gbagbo’s government did not officially comment on the power cuts to the north, but his troops seized the electric distribution company last month and a U.N. source said they had ordered power to be cut to the north during the fighting.

Running water was cut because the pumps are electric.

African leaders had been due to arrive in the world’s top cocoa grower to propose a solution to the standoff, but called it off on Friday. They instead invited Ouattara and Gbagbo to the next African Union summit, where a solution to the crisis would be proposed. Expectations for success are not high.

International cocoa futures regularly have been breaking new 32-year highs on supply fears due to the violence.


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