Thousands are at risk as the United Nations struggles to look after civilians fleeing ongoing violence.
Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo will appear before the International Criminal Court in The Hague within days to face charges of crimes against humanity.
Gbagbo is the first former head of state taken into custody by the court since it was established in 2002.
He arrived by aeroplane at Rotterdam airport earlier on Wednesday to face the charges in the Netherlands where the ICC has its headquarters.
“Gbagbo allegedly bears individual criminal responsibility, as indirect co-perpetrator, for four counts of crimes against humanity … allegedly committed in the territory of the Ivory Coast between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011,” the ICC said in a statement on Wednesday.
The ICC is the world’s first and only permanent international court to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
It is investigating the crimes alleged to have been committed during a four-month conflict arising from Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power to Alassane Ouattara after last year’s election.
Gbagbo had been under house arrest in the tiny village of Korhogo, over 500km north of Abidjan, the commercial capital, since being removed by internationally backed forces seven months ago.
In Abidjan, Gbagbo’s spokesman, Kone Katinan, confirmed that he had left the remote village in a special flight headed to The Hague.
The public prosecutor’s office in Ivory Coast said Gbagbo changed planes in Bouake, the regional capital, before continuing to the Netherlands.
Deposed in April
Ouattara’s forces, backed by French and UN troops, deposed Gbagbo in April and he has since been placed under house arrest in the northern town of Korhogo.
“They [Ivorian justice authorities] showed him the arrest warrant this morning,” Bourthoumieux said by telephone from France, questioning the competence of the ICC to try Gbagbo.
“I condemn … this victor’s justice,” he added in an emailed statement.
A decision to try Gbagbo at the ICC would likely prove controversial among many Ivorians after Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor, said this month that Libya could try Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam at home.
The ICC this year issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam for crimes against humanity.
Abdon Georges Bayeto, the European representative for Gbagbo, called the warrant unfair and said there would be some reaction from the former president’s supporters.
“We’re very surprised that somebody [Ouattara] who won the election and [is] talking of reconciliation can go to that extent,” he told Al Jazeera from London.
“It’s very sad. Remember Laurent Gbagbo got 48 per cent of the vote. That’s not a small number. It’s an important number and we’re going to react. We think that that’s unfair.”
The climate in Ivory Coast is already tense, with Gbagbo’s FPI party boycotting legislative polls next month in protest at the detention of FPI officials in connection with alleged crimes committed during the conflict.
Earlier last month, the government set up an 11-man peace commission to investigate the country’s post-election conflict that killed more than 3,000 people and drove a million others from their homes.
Ouattara said the commission “will have to tackle difficult questions such as the land issue in rural areas and identity questions”.
It was not immediately clear whether the warrant would have any implications on the commission headed by Charles Konan Banny, a former prime minister.
Ouattara, whose forces have also been accused of being involved in the post-election violence, took office in May, vowing to restore “unity between all the daughters, and all the sons of our dear Ivory Coast”.