UN 'under attack' in Cote d'Ivoire

World body accuses security forces loyal to incumbent president of attacking its vehicles and personnel.

    Clashes between security forces and Ouattara supporters are continuing in Abidjan [Reuters]

    The United Nations has accused security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian president who refused to resign after a disputed election, of attacking and burning UN vehicles in the city of Abidjan.

    Martin Nesirky, a UN spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday that "the secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon] is deeply concerned that regular and irregular forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo have begun to attack and burn United Nations vehicles".

    He said there were six attacks on Thursday, including one on an ambulance in which the driver and doctor were injured.

    Earlier in the day, in the Riviera II neighbourhood, a Gbagbo stronghold, student supporters of the incumbent president forced a UN vehicle to stop at a makeshift roadblock.

    They then pulled the driver out of the car and beat him while another group smashed the vehicle's windows and set it on fire, said a witness who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons.

    Cote d'Ivoire has been in turmoil since the November 29 election. The international community believes the vote was won by Alassane Ouattara, a Gbagbo rival.

    Ouattara supporters, angry at Gbagbo's reluctance to step down, have taken to the streets and clashed with security forces repeatedly.

    Meanwhile, Philippe Mangou, the Ivorian army chief of staff, said UN peacekeepers had been sent away from the Abidjan suburb of Abobo after midnight, calling their presence "a provocation".

    "According to our last report from the field, the head of the (UN) operation was turned around and went back," Mangou said after meeting Gbagbo at his residence.

    "It was provocative and shameful on their part, because they are supposed to be an impartial force ... to bring us peace but they have become something else."

    The UN mission spokesman was not available for comment.

    Political divisions

    Ouattara was proclaimed winner by the country's electoral commission and is widely regarded by foreign governments as having legitimately won the UN-certified poll.

    But Gbagbo, who is backed by the country's top court, still controls the security forces.

    The UN says more than 200 people have been killed as a result of post-election violence and more than 20,000 have fled to neighbouring Liberia.

    Relations between the UN mission and Gbagbo have rapidly deteriorated since the world body recognised Ouattara as winner of the elections.

    Gbagbo has ordered the roughly 10,000 UN soldiers and police to leave the country, but the mission has refused, and the UN security council has approved an increase in numbers by 2,000.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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