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Côte D’ivoire: UN Accuses Defeated of Distorting Position

Côte D’ivoire: UN Accuses Defeated Leader of Distorting its Position, Harassing Staff

New York, Dec 20 2010 12:10PM

The United Nations mission in Côte d’Ivoire today accused President Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down despite his electoral defeat, of distorting its position and launching a new wave of harassment against its staff, including night-time knocks on the door by armed men.

“However, all these acts will not deter UNOCI from doing its job as we remember one of Winston Churchill’s maxims: ‘If you are going through hell, just keep going’,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Y. J. Choi said, referring to the 9,000-strong UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, which has rejected Mr. Gbagbo’s demand that it leave the country.

“UNOCI shall keep going, doing its job,” he told a news conference in Abidjan, the commercial capital of the world’s largest cocoa exporter, noting that the mission’s military and police are increasingly placing themselves in harm’s way.

UN, regional organizations and many States have all recognized opposition leader Alassane Ouattara’s clear victory in November’s run-off poll, which was intended to reunite a country split into a Government-held south and rebel-controlled north by civil war in 2002. On Friday Mr. Ban demanded that Mr. Gbagbo step down.

Mr. Choi said the decision to distort the UN position was made deep inside Mr. Gbagbo’s camp on 15 December. “This decision was the mother of all the ensuing anti-UNOCI campaign actions that still continue,” he declared “Why? The reason was made known to us three days later on 18 December: President Gbagbo’s camp needed those pre-planned untruthful cases to ask for the departure of UNOCI and Licorne [the French force supporting UNOCI].”

Decrying the “great deal of bad faith” in the distortions, Mr. Choi underscored UNOCI’s impartiality, noted that its peacekeepers refused to accompany Mr. Ouattara’s supporters in a march from the Golf Hotel, where he is based, to the presidential palace, and detailed the harassment and negative press campaign from Mr. Gbagbo’s camp, including the claim that UN peacekeepers had conspired to support the march.

The clashes between marchers and Mr. Gbagbo’s military forces led to numerous casualties – at least 50 killed, 200 injured, 470 arbitrarily arrested and detained, and many disappearances, according to tentative UN estimates.

Starting on 15 December, Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters began increasing hostile acts against the international community, Mr. Choi noted. The following day, they began reinforcing checkpoints on the access road to the Golf Hotel, blocking UNOCI vehicles, including an ambulance carrying medical personnel, and sporadically denying access to food and water supply trucks, depriving civilians and UN peacekeepers of water, food and medicines.

The following night, a UN patrol was followed by a civilian car with six military uniformed men who fired at it as it entered UNOCI headquarters. They continued to fire at a sentry on the wall, who fired back.

On Saturday, Mr. Gbagbo’s camp began sending armed men, generally during the night, to the homes of some UN staff, knocking at the door and asking them their departure date or entering their residence under the pretext of looking for weapons.

“UN staff members are blocked and harassed,” Mr. Choi said, while adding that most of the essential staff are continuing with their work, with some even sleeping in their offices.

“UNOCI is carrying out its military and police patrols across the country Our patrols are intended to monitor, observe and dissuade acts of violence and human rights violations. Our rules of engagement allow us to fire only when we are fired at.”

On Sunday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed deep concern about the growing evidence of massive human rights violations taking place in the country, including reports of the abduction of individuals from their homes, especially at night, by unidentified armed individuals in military uniform.

ENDS

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