ABIDJAN: The secretary-general of the United Nations said its mandate in Ivory Coast will be fulfilled and he warned against attacks on UN personnel after the man who refuses to give up the presidency ordered thousands of peacekeepers to leave the country.
A statement released late Saturday by a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was aware of the demands made earlier in the day by Laurent Gbagbo, who called for the departure of all peacekeepers taking part in the UN mission known as UNOCI.
"UNOCI will fulfill its mandate and will continue to monitor and document any human rights violations, incitement to hatred and violence, or attacks on UN peacekeepers," the statement said, hours after six masked gunmen opened fire on the UN base in Ivory Coast. No one from the UN was injured in that attack.
The UN secretary-general said he was "deeply concerned" about the reports of violence against UN personnel in the volatile West African nation, noting that two military observers had been wounded in another attack Saturday.
The UN Security Council is due to meet Monday, when it will discuss the situation in the Ivory Coast and the renewal of the UNOCI’s mandate, which is due to expire on Dec. 31.
International pressure is growing on Gbagbo to give up his claim to power after the international community said his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, won last month’s presidential runoff vote.
The European Union was only giving Gbagbo until Sunday to give up power or face EU sanctions that would include an assets freeze and visa ban on him and his wife. Sanctions, though, have typically failed to reverse illegal power grabs in Africa in the past.
Gbagbo’s spokeswoman said Saturday on state television that the UN mission known as UNOCI has not remained neutral in the election dispute and accused it of arming the New Forces rebels allied with Ouattara.
"The state of Ivory Coast considers that the UNOCI has shown itself to be guilty of serious misconduct, which indubitably proves that it is an agent of destabilization and contributes to the further division of the Ivorian people," she said.
The United Nations has certified results showing that Ouattara had won the runoff vote by "an irrefutable margin." The UN had been invited by the country itself to supervise the vote and certify the outcome following a peace accord after Ivory Coast’s 2002-2003 civil war.
There are about 9,000 UN peacekeepers in the country, and about 800 of them have been protecting the compound from which Ouattara is trying to govern the country. Gbagbo also called for the departure of about 900 French forces who have been supporting the UN peacekeepers.
Nick Birnback, spokesman for the UN Peacekeeping Department, stressed that "the mission will continue to do everything possible to execute its Security Council-given mandate." That mandate includes protecting civilians under imminent threat, UN staff and facilities.
While the UN, the United States, France and the African Union have endorsed Ouattara as the rightful winner of the election, Gbagbo maintains control of both the military and state media.
On Thursday, Ouattara called on his supporters to seize key institutions, leading to street clashes that left as many as 30 people dead. Police and troops loyal to Gbagbo prevented Ouattara’s supporters from marching on government buildings Friday.
Ivory Coast was once an economic hub because of its role as the world’s top cocoa producer. The civil war split the country in 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.
National identity remains at the heart of the divide. The question of who would even be allowed to vote in this long-awaited election took years to settle as officials tried to differentiate between Ivorians with roots in neighboring countries and foreigners.
Ouattara had himself been prevented from running in previous elections after accusations that he was not Ivorian, and that he was of Burkinabe origin.