Up to one million Ivorians have now fled fighting in the main city of Abidjan alone, according to the UN [EPA]
The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution demanding an immediate end to the escalating violence in Cote d’Ivoire, as fighters supporting the nation’s internationally recognised leader parade through the streets of the capital.
Wednesday’s council vote comes five days after France and Nigeria introduced a draft resolution expressing “grave concern” that Cote d’Ivoire could relapse into civil war.
The resolution urges all Ivorian parties to respect the election of Alassane Ouattara as president. It condemns president Laurent Gbagbo’s decision not to accept Ouattara’s election and urged him “to immediately step aside”.
The resolution also slaps a travel ban and asset freeze on Gbagbo, his wife, and three key aides.
Ouattara’s military spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that his forces had entered the capital of Yamoussoukro but told The Associated Press news agency that pockets of resistance still existed.
With the sounds of gunshots cracking over the telephone line, a woman at the downtown Hotel La Residence said rebel forces were doing a victory tour of the city, shooting into the air. Residents came out in the streets to welcome them, she said.
Still many believe a final bloody battle over the presidency is destined for the commercial capital of Abidjan.
Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s prime minister, said on Wednesday that Gbagbo has “a few hours” to relinquish power peacefully and there is no room for any further negotiations.
‘Hours’ for peaceful exit
“The time for dialogue and ceasefires is over … (Gbagbo) has a few hours to leave power peacefully,” Soro, who heads Ouattara’s government, told French radio RFI.
Earlier, forces loyal to Ouattara said they had seized control of another two central towns in their advance toward Yamoussoukro.
Captain Leon Alla, a defence spokesman for Ouattara, said his forces took control of Sinfra on Tuesday and Bouafle and Soubre, 130km north of cocoa port of San Pedro, on Wednesday.
Heavy gunfire was heard early on Wednesday in Bouafle, which is midway between the cocoa producing hub of Daloa and the country’s capital Yamoussoukro.
Residents of Tiebisso, 40km north of the capital, also reported fighting.
“Since about 6 o’clock this morning, we are hearing gunfire in Bouafle,” Alain Zagole, a resident of the town,
told the Reuters news agency by phone.
“Machine gun fire and often heavy detonations. It is as if there are clashes,” he said.
Thousands of people continue to flee the country due to the heavy fighting following November’s contested elections.
In the past few days, forces loyal to Ouattara have stepped up their military campaign – moving from their strongholds in the north into the government-controlled south.
Earlier this week, they reportedly seized the towns of Daloa, Bondoukou and Belleville and were fighting for the town of Duekoue.
Marco Oved, a freelance journalist in Abidjan, said the seizures represent rapid victories for pro-Ouattara forces against fighters loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the country’s incumbent leader who has refused to step down.
“They’ve moved hundreds of kilometres often from the west into the centre of the country, and the east into the centre,” he told Al Jazeera.
The pro-Ouattara forces, which Ouattara has recognised as his military and renamed the Cote d’Ivoire Republican Forces (FRCI), have controlled northern Ivory Coast since the civil war of 2002-3.
But Oved said it is unclear how much control is coming from Ouattara himself.
“He distanced himself from these rebel forces for the last eight years. It was only after the election that the rebels rallied to his side,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Ouattara accepted their support, but was hesitant to have any fighting going on, saying as the legitimately elected leader he didn’t want to have to take the country by force. The offensive over the last few days has shown that he feels he has no other options now.”