By MARCO CHOWN OVED,
Source: Associated Press
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – A top opposition figure called Wednesday for the international community to use force to oust Laurent Gbagbo from the presidency after the disputed election, as France urged its citizens to get out amid growing fears of civil war.
The United Nations and other world leaders recognize Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 runoff vote. His prime minister, Guillaume Soro, urged the U.N., European Union, African Union and others to consider intervening to push Gbagbo out.
“It is obvious that there is one solution left — that of force,” Guillaume Soro told France’s i-tele television channel. He added that “200 people have been killed by the bullets of Liberian and Angolan mercenaries” in Ivory Coast but he did not elaborate and the numbers could not immediately be confirmed.
The U.N. said Sunday that at least 50 people have been killed in Ivory Coast in recent days, and the U.N. chief also has expressed concern about the recruitment of fighters from neighboring Liberia.
Still, there appears to be little international interest in a military intervention in Ivory Coast. The United States and the EU are imposing sanctions targeting Gbagbo, his wife and political allies. Hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers have been protecting the hotel where Ouattara is based.
Over the weekend, Gbagbo ordered all U.N. peacekeepers out of the country immediately in an escalation of tensions. The U.N. considers Ouattara president and is staying put, raising fears that U.N. personnel and other foreigners could be targeted in violence as tensions mount.
The U.S. State Department has already ordered most of its personnel to leave because of what officials called a deteriorating security situation and growing anti-Western sentiment. Germany’s Foreign Ministry also has recommended that its nationals leave.
French government spokesman Francois Baroin said Wednesday that French citizens who can leave Ivory Coast should do so temporarily. At least 13,000 French people are currently believed to be in Ivory Coast, which maintains close ties to France and was once the crown jewel of its former West African colonial empire.
After a meeting in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, World Bank chief Robert Zoellick also confirmed Wednesday that loans have been halted to Ivory Coast. The World Bank’s aid commitment to Ivory Coast was $841.9 million as of January 2010, according to the bank’s website.
“The World Bank has currently stopped lending and disbursing funds to the Ivory Coast and the World Bank’s office (in Abidjan) has been closed,” a statement from the agency said.
“The World Bank and the African Development Bank have supported (regional bloc) ECOWAS and the African Union, in sending the message to President Gbagbo that he has lost the election and needs to step down,” it said.
Ouattara has also sought to use financial pressure to force Gbagbo out, appealing to the West African central bank (BCEAO) to cut off his access to state coffers, making it impossible to pay civil servants and soldiers. Such a move could set the stage for mass defections and turn the tide against Gbagbo.
The latest international pressure Wednesday to force Gbagbo out comes amid rising concerns about violence in Ivory Coast. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that Ivory Coast faces “a real risk” of return to civil war.
Over the weekend, masked gunmen opened fire on the U.N. base in Ivory Coast, though no one from the global body was harmed in the attack. Two military observers were wounded in another attack. The U.N. also says armed men have been intimidating U.N. staff at their private homes.
A Gbagbo adviser said he didn’t believe soldiers or people close to Gbagbo would carry out such acts.
The U.N. chief also has expressed concern about fighters from neighboring Liberia entering into the growing political crisis in Ivory Coast. The U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast has “confirmed that mercenaries, including freelance former combatants from Liberia, have been recruited to target certain groups in the population,” he said Tuesday.
Ivory Coast’s 2002-2003 civil war saw the involvement of Liberians fighting on nearly all sides of the conflict. Liberia itself suffered brutal back-to-back civil wars that lasted until 2003, and the two countries share a porous, 370-mile-(600-kilometer)-long border. Liberia’s president has urged citizens not to get involved in Ivory Coast’s latest political crisis.
Hundreds of U.N. troops are protecting the Golf Hotel where Ouattara is based, but they are encircled by forces loyal to Gbagbo. U.N. Special Representative Choi Young-jin said that a blockade was lifted Wednesday and U.N. supply trucks are now able to bring in food, water and needed medications that weren’t getting through after Gbagbo imposed the blockade last week.
Gbagbo said late Tuesday that people could also leave the Golf Hotel, but Ouattara’s people say they’re still not venturing out for fear of a trap.
“Mice don’t trust smiling cats,” said senior Ouattara adviser Amadou Coulibaly.
Ivory Coast was once an economic hub because of its role as the world’s top cocoa producer. The 2002-2003 civil war split the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. While the country officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, Ouattara still draws his support from the northern half of the country where he was born while Gbagbo’s power base is in the south.
Gbagbo claimed victory in the presidential election only after his allies threw out half a million ballots from Ouattara strongholds in the north, a move that infuriated residents there who have long felt they are treated as foreigners in their own country by southerners.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.