The United Nations has confirmed that seven peacekeepers have been killed in an ambush in the Ivory Coast, the first attack of its kind in the country.
“This attack cost the lives of seven UNOCI peacekeeping soldiers from Niger,” the peacekeeping mission said in a statement. “These soldiers were on patrol in the region of Tai, in a zone where UNOCI recently increased its presence due to a threat of civilian operations being attacked.”
A UN source told the AFP news agency that the peacekeepers were patrolling near two villages, Para and Tai. A resident of Para said that villagers were fleeing from fighting in the area.
“There’s panic in the villages, many are fleeing into the forest, others are heading for Liberia,” the resident said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “outraged” by the killing and that more troops remained in danger.
“Even tonight, after the attack, more than 40 peacekeepers remain with the villagers in this remote region to protect them from this armed group,” Ban told reporters.
The mission, called UNOCI, was started in 2003 in the midst of the country’s years-long civil war. It saw extensive action following the presidential election in 2010, after the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, proclaimed himself the winner.
It took months for forces loyal to the opposition candidate, Alassane Ouattara, to dislodge Gbagbo; UN troops fired on Gbagbo’s troops and took control of the airport in the capital Abidjan during that time.
The western part of Ivory Coast remains deeply unstable, and has been plagued by deadly attacks since the post-election crisis abated. In a report published Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said at least 40 people have been killed since July 2011 in raids the group blamed on fighters loyal to Gbagbo.
Gbagbo was captured on April 11, 2011 and has been in custody in The Hague since November on allegations of crimes against humanity.
UNOCI has about 11,000 troops, military observers and police in Ivory Coast. Up to Friday, 60 troops, 15 police, one military observer and 14 international and local civilian staff have been killed.