Air strikes on Gbagbo residence in Abidjan
UN and French helicopters attack Ivorian presidential residence as rights watchdog accuses Ouattara forces of abuses.
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2011 20:49

United Nations and French helicopters have fired rockets on the residence of Laurent Gbagbo, Cote d'Ivoire's incumbent president, in Abidjan.

Haru Mutasa, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Abidjan, said five helicopters were used in the attack on Sunday and that they flew from a French airbase.

After flying to the Cocody area, where the presidential residence is located, they fired their rockets and returned to the airbase to reload. The process was then repeated.

Two residents from nearby neighborhoods saw two UN Mi-24 attack helicopters and a French helicopter open fire on the residence, the Associated Press news agency reported.

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One resident reported seeing smoke rise from the compound. An AP reporter saw the same three helicopters take off from the French military base minutes before he heard explosions coming from the direction of the residence.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he has given orders to use "all necessary means" to stop Gbagbo''s heavy weapons.

"The continued use of heavy weapons against the civilian population and our peacekeepers, as well as the attack against the headquarters of the legitimate government, have compelled me, once again, to instruct UNOCI to use all necessary means to prevent the use of these weapons, pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1975 (2011) and 1962 (2010)," Ban said in a statement.

"We are pursuing our operation to neutralise Gbagbo heavy weapons. We had to stop the operation for a couple of days to evaluate and have realised that there are still some heavy weapons that they had used against civilians and the UN," Hamadoun Toure, a UN spokesman, said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Toure said UN helicopters were only targeting heavy weapons sites and not Gbagbo himself.

"We are not trying to take control of his residence ... Our objective is not to capture anybody," Toure said.

The battle for Abidjan

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Sunday''s violence comes after forces loyal to Gbagbo fired on Alassane Outtara, the president-elect''s hotel headquarters, on Saturday.

Gbagbo spokesman Don Mello denied that his forces had targeted the hotel, and said that the incumbent leader was calling on all supporters to fight against foreign forces deployed in the country.

Gbagbo, who has ruled Cote d''Ivoire since 2000, is defended by about 1,000 men, while the UN peacekeeping mission has about 12,000 troops.

Lawyers for Ouattara had earlier demanded that the UN and France "neutralise" Gbagbo''s forces so that he could be put before a court.

They have described forces loyal to the incumbent president as "an illegal occupation force".

Al Jazeera''s Mutasa said that heavy shelling and gunfire rang out through the evening on Sunday, with plumes of smoke visible from the direction of Gbagbo''s residence.

Toussaint Alain, a Gbagbo adviser who resides in France, confirmed the attack, while Ahoua Don Mello, a Gbagbo spokesman, said the residence was "partially destroyed".

Our correspondent also reported fighting near the Agban military base.

"We''re hearing from people who live there that the fighting is ongoing, it''s been on and off for the past few hours," she reported.

"The residents who are closest to that base say some of them have fled and they are hiding in a nearby market until the fighting has died down. People seem very, very afraid."

Ouattara forces blamed

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights watchdog, meanwhile, has accused forces loyal to Ouattara of killing hundreds of civilians, raping Gbagbo supporters and burning villages during an offensive in the country''s west.

On Sunday, soldiers loyal to Ouattara smashed a stone they claim gave Gbagbo mystical powers [Reuters]

Daniel Bekele, HRW''s Africa director, warned that while international focus appeared to be on Abidjan, violence and rights abuses were occuring across the country.

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 including Toulepleu, Doke, Blolequin, Duekoue and Guiglo fell to pro-Ouattara forces.

At least 400 Ivorians have been killed in fighting between the two sides and tens of thousands have sought refuge in neighbouring Liberia, according to the UN.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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