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COTE D'IVOIRE: Briefing on UN involvement

DAKAR, 15 February 2011 (IRIN) - IRIN has produced a series of briefings exploring the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire triggered by contested elections in November 2010.

With both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara laying claim to the presidency, the bitter political divisions in the country have led to worsening violence. While regional and international bodies have repeatedly called on Gbagbo to step down, neither sanctions nor mediation initiatives have come close to breaking the deadlock. Gbagbo and Ouattara head rival administrations, both trying to maximize their resources and isolate the other party. IRIN’s series of revised briefings takes a look at the handling of the crisis by the UN, regional bodies the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), western governments, and the European Union (EU), while also looking at the economic, human rights and humanitarian consequences of the breakdown.

The UN - a hard row to hoe

UN Security Council Resolution 1967, adopted on 19 January, formally authorized the deployment of 2,000 additional military personnel, transferred from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). The same resolution issued the now familiar appeals for UN and French personnel to be allowed to move freely, condemned incidents of violence and human rights violations and admonished the Ivoirian state broadcaster, RTI, and other media, calling for an immediate halt to any coverage looking “to propagate false information and incite hatred and violence”.

A worsening climate

UNOCI’s mandate in Côte d’Ivoire has been extended until 30 June 2011 and is likely to stretch well beyond that point. According to the Security Council, “UNOCI is operating in an openly hostile security environment with direct threats from regular and irregular forces loyal to former President Gbagbo.” Having had difficult relations with Gbagbo and his supporters prior to the elections, UNOCI’s subsequent certification of Ouattara’s victory and requests for Gbagbo to leave office have made it an easy target for groups like the pro-Gbagbo Jeunes Patriotes, while Gbagbo’s ministerial team has been consistently dismissive of UNOCI’s position on the crisis.

Both from Abidjan and New York, the UN has cited numerous examples of obstructive behaviour sanctioned by the Gbagbo-led authorities or acts of violence orchestrated by Gbagbo supporters. These include: the burning of six UN vehicles on 13 January; the denial of customs clearance for humanitarian supplies at the port in Abidjan; shots fired at UNOCI personnel, and attempted disruption of UN convoys. RTI and other parts of the pro-Gbagbo media remain overwhelmingly critical. RTI accounts of incidents involving UNOCI personnel, including the alleged use of gunfire and grenades in public order situations have frequently been challenged by the UN.

The UN’s own radio station, ONUCI FM, has been consistently disparaged by the state media and by senior officials within the Gbagbo administration. A communiqué from the state media regulatory body, the Conseil National Communication Audiovisuel (CNCA), removed the station’s frequency, explaining that it had no legal basis to broadcast following Gbagbo’s expulsion order against the UN mission in December. ONUCI FM has been on the air since June 2004. It is not clear yet whether this is more of a warning shot than a definitive ban, similar communiqués having been issued in the past. But the French government has registered strong concern.

''Although our mission is to protect, we have superior equipment and we can always fight back''
Demands from the Gbagbo authorities to stop and search UN vehicles, following allegations of UNOCI complicity with the Forces Nouvelles - the former rebel movement that backs Ouattara - were condemned by UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in New York as “a serious violation of the State of Forces Agreement”.

Visiting Addis Ababa for the AU summit at the end of January, the UN Special Representative for Côte d'Ivoire Choi Young-Jin warned: “Although our mission is to protect, we have superior equipment and we can always fight back,” but stressed the UN would not respond to provocation. “We are very careful not to be drawn into their game,” he told reporters.

Also speaking in Addis Ababa, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated the UN’s desire to see Gbagbo leave the presidency: “We must preserve our unified position, act together and stand firm against Mr Gbagbo’s attempt to hang on to power through the use of force.” Ban Ki-moon explicitly ruled out the possibility of re-opening the results of the election, arguing that this “would be a grave injustice and set an unfortunate precedent.”

The UN Security Council’s February report on Côte d’Ivoire said the Council now had to balance its own role with those of regional and sub-regional organizations “so as to avoid the possibility of relapse into full-blown violent conflict and bearing in mind the risks associated with the previous history of violence based on ethnic lines”. The UN remains supportive of the positions taken by the AU and ECOWAS, but resolutions and communiqués from New York have stopped well short of recommending military action.

The UN has renewed the mandate of its Group of Experts, which has looked in the past at the implementation of arms and diamond embargoes and the UN’s use of targeted sanctions against named individuals. The UN had hoped, post-elections that sanctions would no longer be relevant, but the Group of Experts is at work, looking at various options, including adding new names to the existing list “to induce compliance with the peace efforts of the mediators”.

The Security Council report noted Nigerian Foreign Minister Ajumgobia’s request for the Council to authorize formally the use of force to oust Gbagbo. It noted that “some Council members remain uncomfortable with this strategy at this time,” hinting that Russia and China were particularly cautious.

Speaking in New York on 4 February, Special Representative Choi said the 2,000 extra personnel being provided to UNOCI would give the UN a much-needed “rapid reaction capability”. Choi said that a number of countries had pledged extra troops, police and military equipment, should the need arise.

Sources: UN Security Council, UNOCI, Radio Télévision Ivoirien (RTI)

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Theme (s): Economy, Governance, Human Rights, Refugees/IDPs, Security, Urban Risk,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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