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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
20 January 2006

COTE D IVOIRE: Calm returns after four days of riots against UN, French peacekeepers

ABIDJAN, 20 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Business resumed as usual with cars and taxis back on the streets of Cote d’Ivoire on Friday after protesters demanding the departure of UN and French peace troops called an end to four days of riots by lifting roadblocks and going home.

Life returned to normal in the western towns of Daloa in the west and the southwestern port city of San Pedro too, residents said.

Youths loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo had packed up and left the entrance to the UN Mission headquarters building, said UN military spokesman Gilles Combarieu.

Thousands of members of the Young Patriots movement loyal to Gbagbo camped outside the hillside hotel used as UN HQ this week, pelting the building with stones and tearing down the outer fence.

“Life returned to normal last night around 8 p.m,” Combarieu said. “As soon as the word was given, they left very, very quickly.” he said.

On Thursday evening, as the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, Young Patriots leader Charles Ble Goude told followers to dismantle barricades that had snagged roads across the country’s economic capital Abidjan since the beginning of the week.

“We hereby wish to appeal to our friends in the various districts to remove the barriers,” said Ble Goude on Ivorian radio.

But after attacks on UN vehicles, compounds and offices across southern Cote d’Ivoire, one UN official told IRIN staff were still waiting for the green light to leave their homes or use UN vehicles.

Cote d’Ivoire has been divided between a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north since a failed coup in September 2002 with some 6,000 UN peacekeepers and 4,000 French troops brought in to help maintain peace and shepherd the country towards disarmament and elections.

But the UN operation came under fire this week from Gbagbo supporters after a recommendation from a panel of UN-appointed mediators - the International Working Group - that would have effectively disbanded the National Assembly, whose mandate ended 16 December.

The stand infuriated Gbagbo’s ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party, which dominates parliament and which this week in consequence announced it was pulling its seven members out of the transitional government and leaving the peace process to protest the meddling.

After flying in to Cote d’Ivoire to help defuse the crisis on Wednesday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo joined Gbagbo and interim Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny in a statement saying: “The working group does not have the power to dissolve the national assembly...the working group has not dissolved the national assembly.”

Young Patriots interpreted that statement as a victory. “We must allow people to circulate and life to resume normally because we have just won a big victory,” said Ble Goude. “The International Working Group’s decision has been cancelled and we are returning home.”

But Prime Minister Banny’s interpretation of events was somewhat different. Speaking on national television on Thursday evening, Banny said the UN group had never dissolved parliament. “The group has simply noted the expiration of the deputies' mandate”.

In New York, the UN Security Council expressed "deep concern" over the situation and threatened individual sanctions against Ivorian leaders but stopped short of action.

“Those who are behaving this way ought to understand that the time will come when they may have to account for their acts and the disruption they are causing to their own society,” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters.

Annan ruled out any idea of pulling out the UN force in the light of the recent attacks in which hundreds of UN troops stationed in western Cote d’Ivoire retreated from their bases after coming under attack from angry pro-Gbagbo youths.

Five people were killed in the clashes with UN troops.

UN agencies and NGOs were targeted for attack and many offices were broken into and looted resulting in US $2 million-worth of damages and losses, according to the UN.

The 15-nation Security Council meanwhile warned "that targeted measures will be imposed" against those blocking the peace process, including by attacking the UN mission, or inciting violence.

Many analysts and Ivorian papers said the flare-up was due to a power struggle between Gbagbo - whose mandate was extended until next October under a UN peace plan and whose last bastion of power is the National Assembly - and Banny, given the interim premiership by the UN plan.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate said the riots were an attempt by Gbagbo and his ruling FPI to destabilise Banny and the new power-sharing government that was named less than three weeks ago.

“It’s hard to see what the ruling party has gained by all this,” Konate said. “They have tried to destabilise the prime minister but with the Security Council saying they back Banny, they have lost.”

But other observers said Gbagbo’s camp scored a strong victory this week.

“The crisis was well-orchestrated and clearly coordinated by the presidency as a showdown between Gbagbo and Banny, and the presidency won this round,” said a western diplomat who asked not to be named.

Referring to the fact that there had been little to no intervention from police or state security forces to put down the protests despite the fact that demonstrations have been banned in the country, the diplomat added:

“They have shown they still control the security forces and they still control the militias and that nobody can push them around. Gbagbo has shown he’s in full control and the prime minister has no leverage to impose his decisions.”

Venance Konan, a respected Ivorian writer and editorialist, disagreed. The unrest grew from a bid by Gbagbo to strengthen his political hand after losing the Finance and Defence portfolios in the new government and control over the National Election Commission, he said.

“The National Assembly is their last bastion. Without parliament they no longer had a way of controlling the electoral process and winning elections,” he said.

“But Banny has come out on top after getting explicit backing from the UN Security Council in Thursday night's resolution. It must be hoped that he makes use of this to put some order into the army and the press, especially state television.”

The rebels however said the mayhem in the country this week raised questions about the UN’s ability to deal with trouble.

“We are waiting … to hear from the UN mission as to how they think they are going to secure Abidjan,” Konate said. “If we have elections and the same scenario takes place, what are the UN troops going to do? Run away again?”

[ENDS]

 

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006



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