UN, France fire rockets on Gbagbo’s residence
Ivorian leader still holed up in his bunker
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — United Nations and French helicopters in Ivory Coast fired rockets on strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s residence yesterday in retaliation for attacks by his forces on the UN headquarters and civilians in recent days, a UN official said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he had authorized the strikes, accusing Gbagbo of using heavy weapons against Ivory Coast civilians and the UN forces trying to protect them.
Two residents from nearby neighborhoods reported seeing two UN Mi-24 attack helicopters and one French helicopter open fire on the residence. One resident reported seeing smoke rise from the compound. The residents asked to not be named for fear of reprisal.
Gbagbo’s adviser in France, Toussaint Alain, confirmed the attack.
Gbagbo has been living in a bunker in his residence in Abidjan for nearly a week. After a decade in power, he still refuses to step aside even though the United Nations has ruled that he lost the November presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.
Forces loyal to Gbagbo were encircled at the presidential residence earlier this week but broke out on Saturday, ambushing a patrol of soldiers loyal to his rival, Ouattara, and advancing into the downtown core.
Pro-Gbagbo forces also attacked UN headquarters on Saturday and again yesterday, according to the United Nations.
“This is in retaliation to a series of attacks for the last three or four days not only against [the UN] but also against the civilian population — often with heavy weapons,’’ said UN spokesman Hamadoun Toure.
Toure said that the airstrikes targeted the Presidential Palace and Gbagbo’s residence, as well as military bases where heavy weapons had been identified.
Only minutes before the helicopters took off, local UN peacekeeping mission head Choi Young-jin announced that the United Nations would be attacking in an interview on the BBC.
Gbagbo has lost control of virtually the entire country in the past two weeks as forces loyal to Ouattara have swept down from the north and west into the commercial capital. UN and French forces joined the efforts this week.
Gbagbo and his top military men were negotiating a surrender Tuesday that had raised expectations the four-month political standoff was nearing an end. But he continued to assert that he would not give up power and that he was the legitimate president of Ivory Coast despite a first round of UN and French airstrikes that destroyed much of his arsenal of tanks, mortars, and other heavy weapons.
“I am concluding that Mr. Gbagbo has lost contact with reality,’’ Choi said.
The United Nations said that the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara is based came under attack late Saturday and one peacekeeper was injured. UN spokesman Hamadoun Toure said that rockets and mortars landed on the hotel grounds shortly after UN forces came under attack nearby on Saturday evening. One peacekeeper was evacuated to hospital with serious injuries, he said.
Massere Toure, a communications adviser for Ouattara, denied that the hotel itself was targeted by the attack, which she said started when a patrol sent out from the hotel was ambushed by forces loyal to former president Gbagbo. Toure confirmed that stray bullets and at least one mortar landed on hotel grounds during the fighting.
Ouattara’s forces repeatedly said they do not want to kill Gbagbo, a move that would stoke the rage of his supporters. Some 46 percent of Ivorians voted for Gbagbo.
In a separate development, Human Rights Watch said forces loyal to Ouattara killed hundreds of civilians, raped his rival’s supporters, and burned villages during an offensive launched in the country’s west.
The human rights group called on Ouattara to investigate and prosecute abuses by his forces and those supporting his rival. It said that forces loyal to Gbagbo killed more than 100 civilians to retaliate against pro-Ouattara fighters who launched a major offensive advancing toward Abidjan.
“While the international community has been focused on the political stalemate in Abidjan over the presidency, forces on both sides have committed numerous atrocities against civilians, their leaders showing little interest in reining them in,’’ said Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch Africa director in the report.
People interviewed by the group described how pro-Ouattara forces “summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush.’’
The report said that many of the abuses occurred from March 6-30, as villages in the west fell to pro-Ouattara forces.
The United Nations said peacekeepers and human rights officials discovered about 60 bodies in the western town of Guiglo.
The UN human rights agency said another 40 corpses were found lying the street in Blolequin, and many of them had been shot. Fifteen other bodies were found in Duekoue, where violence already has left at least 229 dead in recent weeks.
The report said that many were targeted for their ethnicity and Ouattara’s Republican forces have killed, raped, and pillaged the predominantly Guere population, who largely supported Gbagbo in the election. Abuses continued through March, culminating in the massacre of hundreds in Duekoue on March 29, the report said.