UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: ONUCI mandate needs to be updated, force commander says
DAKAR, 2 Dec 2004 (IRIN) - The mandate of more than 6,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in Cote d'Ivoire needs to be reassessed following last month's flare-up of violence in the West African country, Major General Abdoulaye Fall, the commander of the peacekeeping force, has said.
"The situation certainly needs to be re-evaluated," Fall told reporters in Dakar on Wednesday night.
"The misson was based on a certain number of things. The political parties had agreed and had signed a ceasefire. The force was set up to accompany the political parties. But where are we now if the data has changed?"
"The ceasefire is no longer respected. This means the situation must be re-evaluated and the mandate re-oriented," Fall said in response to questions, without adding further details.
The general, who is Senegalese, was speaking after a coordination meeting with the heads of the UN peacekeeping forces in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Cote d'Ivoire was once a bastion of regional stability and beacon of economic success in West Africa, but rebels occupied the north of the country following the outbreak of a civil war two years ago.
President Laurent Gbagbo broke an 18-month ceasefire on 4 November when he sent jet bombers and helicopter gunships to attack rebel positions in anticipation of a new ground offensive.
Military operations ground to a halt two days later when French peacekeeping forces in Cote d'Ivoire destroyed his small air force on the ground.
But that led to several days of anti-French rioting in the economic capital Abidjan and the evacuation of nearly 9,000 foreign residents from the city.
The crisis highlighted the fact that the French military force in Cote d'Ivoire is able to act much more energetically in times of conflict than its UN counterpart, which is known by its French acronym ONUCI.
ONUCI was created in February at a time of relative stability in Cote d'Ivoire with a mandate "to use all necessary means" to monitor a May 2003 ceasefire and assist a government of national reconciliation to re-establish peace, disarm and resettle combatants and organize elections in October 2005.
It was also charged with protecting UN staff and civilians under threat.
But the mandate had a double-edge. The UN peacekeepers were to enforce their mission "in coordination" with troops from France, the former colonial power, which remained under separate command.
France's "Unicorn Force," which has been beefed up from 4,000 to 5,500 men over the past month, intervened in the civil war at an early stage to keep the two sides apart. It has been authorized "to use all necessary means" to support ONUCI.
"One of the problems," said a UN official who asked not to be identified, "is that there is a fundamental ambiguity about the role of the French, who are there under agreements with the country as well as agreements with the United Nations."
The way the two forces work together in Cote d'Ivoire is spelled out under mutually agreed rules of engagement.
However, the role of French troops in the latest violence has unleashed a storm of controversy both in Cote d'Ivoire and in France following allegations that the Unicorn peacekeepers opened fire unnecessarily on angry demonstrators during the November riots in Abidjan, killing at least 20 people.
Their action has raised questions about the future role of ONUCI.
One UN source noted that UN rules of engagement specify that troops must "never fire at civilians but only at clearly identified armed combatants."
Both ONUCI and Unicorn operate under a "chapter seven" mandate from the United Nations. This authorizes the use of force when faced with a threat. However, a chapter seven mandate can be set at three different levels of authority.
Should ONUCI's mandate be given a more robust upgrade, the blue helmets in Cote d'Ivoire could be authorized to use force if peace is threatened or even use force to impose peace.
Fall, the ONUCI commander, was in Dakar for a regular two-monthly coordination meeting with Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande of Kenya, the force commander of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), and Pakistan's Major-General Sajjad Akram, who commands the troops of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).
With more than 25,000 troops in West Africa, the three UN missions together form the world's largest peacekeeping presence.
The agenda of their Dakar meeting included discussions of cross-border operations, joint air patrols and the possible creation of a regional reserve force, about which few details have been given. "This is still a concept," one source said.
Opande said UNMIL troops had been particularly effective in patrolling the border with Cote d'Ivoire in recent weeks to prevent arms or combatants from slipping across to swell the firepower of Ivorian militia groups.
Commenting on the disarmament process in Liberia, which has just been completed, Opande said "It is my belief that the majority of weapons in the country have either been destroyed by us or are in our control, or in the process.
"We can say with some certainty that if there still are weapons going from Liberia to Cote d'Ivoire then there are very few. And if someone is still hiding arms we will continue to monitor the border."
However, figures released by the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization , Reintegration and Rehabilitation in Monrovia on Thursday, showed that on average only one in four of the 107,000 former combatants registered under the programme had actually handed in a weapon.
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