More arms caches found in Ivory Coast
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — More than 500 BM-21 missiles were found yesterday stacked in green wooden crates in the basement of Ivory Coast’s Presidential Palace, where foreign leaders had come only weeks ago to mediate a peaceful end to the country’s political crisis.
The extent of strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s arsenal is coming into focus as it is discovered in caches around the city, enough military might to wage an extended civil war, had Gbagbo not been captured on Monday.
“We have here significant stocks of heavy arms, which shows clearly that the UN Security Council resolution was appropriate and that the opportunity was taken to get rid of these weapons,’’ said President Alassane Ouattara’s secretary-general Amadou Gon Coulibaly, referring to the resolution that authorized the UN and French helicopters to attack and destroy heavy arms last week.
Pro-Gbagbo soldiers held out for days at the luxurious Presidential Palace in the center of the city, which was conquered only on Wednesday. Yesterday, Coulibaly surveyed the premises and found the arms caches.
In the basement of the palace, an Associated Press reporter counted at least 532 cases of BM-21 missiles, each one more than 8 feet long.
Crates of mortars, grenades, and ammunition littered the sprawling gardens and boxes of emergency medical supplies were stacked in an office.
All around Abidjan yesterday, teams of Red Cross workers shoveled charred corpses into bags while UN peacekeepers gathered more weapons, throwing them into dump trucks for disposal.
More than a week of heavy fighting turned a city once known as the Paris of West Africa into one of deprivation, fear, and death. The urban warfare culminated in the arrest of Gbagbo Monday. Now Ouattara’s first order of business is to get Abidjan functioning again.
“We need to secure the country, notably Abidjan,’’ Ouattara said at his first press conference on Wednesday. “There are still arms caches, but we will get rid of them with our allied forces . . . These weapons will be gathered and burned.’’
Now that fighting has ceased in many parts of the largest city, the people of Abidjan have begun to leave their homes for the first time in over two weeks.