The influential speaker of the Ivorian parliament, Mamadou Koulibaly, said on Wednesday that far from helping bring peace to Cote d’Ivoire, the United Nations peacekeeping force was instead contributing to friction.
“Initially convened to be a solution to the Ivorian crisis, the presence of the UN has become a part of the Ivorian conflict,” Koulibaly said in the pro-government daily, Le Courrier.
Koulibaly, considered one of President Laurent Gbagbo’s most staunch supporters, also accused the UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI) of carrying out an “attempted coup d’etat” and alleged key members of the mission were “accomplices of France,” the former colonial power.
Some 7,000 UN peacekeepers, aided by 4,000 French troops, are in Cote d’Ivoire, which has been split between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south for more than three years.
But a fortnight ago, UN humanitarian and peacekeeping facilities were targeted by four days of violent protest led by pro-Gbagbo youths known as the Young Patriots. Their leader, Charles Ble Goude, called youths out onto the streets after a UN mediation team deemed there were no grounds to prolong the life of the parliament, whose mandate expired 16 December.
UN vehicles and offices were torched and ransacked and hundreds of blue helmets forced to beat a retreat in the volatile west of the country.
As the violence unfolded, US Ambassador John Bolton told Security Council members that perhaps ONUCI “has become more of a problem than a solution,” a diplomat at the meetings told IRIN.
At the New York talks, the Security Council failed to agree to a request from UN Secretary General Koffi Annan to send more troops to Cote d’Ivoire. “The US is worried about whether ONUCI may be a liability,” the diplomat said.
As the UN this week continues meetings on Cote d’Ivoire in New York, including talks on whether or not to slap sanctions on individuals blocking peace efforts, a South African mediation team flew in to the West African country to soothe the tension.
“We were discussing ways and means of how to support the process and I leave the office of the prime minister excited that we are on the verge of making tremendous progress in terms of taking the Ivorian peace process forward,” South African Defence Minister Musiuoa Lekota told reporters on Tuesday.
The matter of the parliament mandate had been raised with the Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny and President Gbagbo, Lekota said, but he did not given any details of the discussion.
Gbagbo threw a new spanner in the works a few days ago by issuing a surprise decree allowing parliament to remain in office beyond its official mandate.
That decision brought a sharp rebuke from UN-chief Annan, who not only expressed concern and surprise over the decision but said it did not conform with prior understandings. “The Secretary-General underlines the need to avoid all unilateral action,” he said in a statement.
The South African delegation had planned to go on to the rebel stronghold of Bouake for discussions, but a rebel spokesman said the team was not welcome.
“(UN) Resolution 1633 does not give South Africa the mandate to come to Cote d’Ivoire and talk to the actors in the peace process here. We will not be receiving the South African delegation to avoid weakening resolution 1633,” Alain Lobognon, director of communication for the rebels, told IRIN.
The resolution provides for presidential elections to be held by October this year after rebels and pro-government militia have been disarmed.