Gbagbo orders UN troops out

Incumbent Cote d’Ivoire president tells UN peacekeepers to leave the country after ‘interference’ in internal affairs.

The government of Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo has told the United Nations and French peacekeeping missions to leave the country, escalating tensions after last month’s disputed presidential polls.

“The government demands the departure of the UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire] and LICORNE [The French military’s ‘Operation Unicorn’] forces in Ivory Coast and is opposed to any renewal of their mandate,” said spokesperson Jacqueline Oble, reading a statement on state television on Saturday.

“UNOCI has interfered seriously in the internal affairs of Ivory Coast,” she added.

The UN mission has told Al Jazeera that they are still awaiting receipt of a formal letter regarding this request.

Earlier on Saturday, masked men in military uniforms opened fire on a UN base, after following guards back from a patrol, according to a UN statement. There were no casualties after the attack, in which six armed men in a civilian vehicle shot at the patrol as it entered the UN compound.

The men continued firing along the wall of the compound, and UN guards returned fire, according to the statement.

The UN has 10,000 soldiers and police in the country following the 2002-03 civil war, and former colonial power France’s LICORNE force supports the UN mission in the country.

Cote d’Ivoire was thrown into crisis after its November 28 presidential runoff, with both candidates claiming victory. Alassane Ouattara has been recognised by the international community as the winner and has formed a parallel government holed up in an Abidjan hotel.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Patrick Achi, spokesman for Ouattara, said that Gbagbo had no right to ask the UN to leave, as he is no longer President.

“The population is the hostage of someone who lost the election,” Achi added.

He asserted that the international community must now step in and turn their words of support into action, as Gbagbo remains in control of the army and the media.

The current UN mandate, however, is limited to protecting civilians, and does not allow peacekeepers to interfere with local politics.

Sylvain Touati, Research Fellow for the Africa Program at the French Institute for International Relations, told Al Jazeera that the UN can choose to ignore the request from Gbagbo, as it no longer recognises him as head of state.

He added that the UN may be forced to intervene if hostilities escalate, as an armed conflict between the two sides could lead to much bloodshed.

International pressure mounts

The move to eject UN and French peacekeepers comes just a day after Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called on African nations to oust Gbagbo by force if necessary.

“Mr Gbagbo must be forced even if it means using military means to get rid of him because now he is just relying on military power, not the people’s power, to intimidate the people,” Odinga told a news conference in Nairobi on Friday.
“The African Union should develop teeth.”

France has issued a weekend deadline for Gbagbo to surrender his presidential post or face international sanctions and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has called on the incumbent to step aside for Ouattara.

The United States has said it is ready to impose travel sanctions on Gbagbo, his inner circle and their families within days, while at least one African nation is said to have offered him exile.

“There is at least one African offer of a soft landing, but it is up to him to take it,” William Fitzgerald, the state department official in charge of West African affairs, told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

‘Little effect’

But Al Jazeera’s Ama Boateng, reporting from Abidjan, said that Gbagbo has “heard these threats before”.

“We’ve heard them from the African Union, we’ve heard them from the United Nations, we’ve heard them from pretty much every international voice,” Boateng said. “And so far, that has had very, very little effect.”

A spokesman for Gbagbo told the Reuters news agency that the presidential claimant would not step down after being handed the runoff victory after the constitutional council annulled hundreds of thousands of votes in pro-Ouattara areas.

“President Gbagbo is going nowhere. He was elected for five years and he will only leave power in 2015,” Alain Toussaint said in London.

“France, the United States, the EU want to carry out a plot, a constitutional coup d’etat, and we say ‘No’ … we can’t allow foreign governments to interfere in our affairs.”

The election has been followed by violent protests in Abidjan and other cities. Ouattara’s camp said 30 people died in clashes on Thursday while Gbagbo’s spokeswoman said 20 died, including 10 police officers killed by protesters.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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