Cote d'Ivoire to get more UN troops

UN representative to violence-torn nation says current 8,000-strong force will be increased by a further 2,000 soldiers.

    The UN says at least 365 people have been killed in violence since November [Reuters]

    The UN is to send 2,000 more troops to Cote d'Ivoire to reinforce the existing peacekeeping force there, a UN official has said.

    Choi Young-jin, the UN special representative for Cote d'Ivoire, said on Saturday that the decision was prompted by a surge in violence in the West African country.

    On Thursday, government troops killed at least six women who were protesting against Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to step down as president, three months after the country's  disputed election.

    "What we are seeing is clearly an escalation of violence," Choi told the Liberation newspaper in an interview published on Saturday. "Since Feb 19, incidents have gotten more serious."

    The 8,000-strong UN force is trying to prevent violence between Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised winner of the election, from tipping into a civil war.

    Clashes between factions loyal to each side have grown increasingly violent in the past couple of months.

    About 800 peacekeepers are stationed around a hotel in Abidjan, the commercial capital, where Ouattara has been holed up since November.

    Ouattara hopes that economic sanctions will eventually weaken Gbagbo's grip on power.

    The UN has said at least 365 people have been killed in violence since November 28.

    Women shot

    Video footage of the all-women protest in the northern Abidjan suburb of Abobo, broadcast on Itele news channel, showed women screaming and at least two bloodied bodies on the road.

    An armoured vehicle marked "police" was visible in the background.

    Choi said he was sending frequent patrols through the Abobo suburb, adding: "We need to do everything we can to stop someone who wants to massacre civilians from making it happen."

    As the conflict escalated, Choi said he had not yet called on a French military unit stationed nearby.

    "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.

    Asked if he thought a political outcome to the crisis was possible, Choi said: "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 opposition 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 UN source said they had ordered power to be cut to the north during the fighting.

    Running water was able to be cut because the pumps are electric.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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