UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Anti-UN riots threaten continued assistance to refugees, displaced
ABIDJAN, 23 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - The gutting of UN facilities and evacuation of staff in western Cote d’Ivoire last week could deprive thousands of refugees and displaced of food aid and other humanitarian assistance, officials warned on Monday.
About 14,000 refugees and displaced persons live in camps near the western town of Guiglo, where anti-UN protesters loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo went on the rampage last week, torching the offices of 10 UN agencies and other aid groups and driving out all UN personnel and most other aid workers.
“The situation is extremely serious,” Abdou Dieng, UN World Food Programme country director, told IRIN. “We don’t know what’s going to happen to these people.”
Angry youths damaged or stole at least 20 UN vehicles and looted a WFP warehouse of just under 700 tonnes of rice destined for vulnerable populations, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They also made off with laptops, cameras, scanners, generators and satellite phones.
Total damages for the UN could amount to US $1.8 million, UN humanitarian coordinator Abdoulaye Mar Dieye said in a statement, condemning what he called a “flagrant violation of human rights and humanitarian law.”
UN representatives were holding meetings on Monday to decide how to proceed. “We’re still taking stock of the damage and trying to figure out how to assure continued humanitarian assistance,” a UN official said.
Currently, UN agencies feed and provide humanitarian assistance to almost one million people faced by food insecurity, and about one out of five of the country’s 17 million people receives humanitarian assistance of some kind, UN officials told IRIN.
Last week’s riots, which lasted four days and brought the economic capital Abidjan to a standstill, targeted UN-sponsored attempts to bring peace to Cote d’Ivoire, split between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south for more than three years.
While calm has returned to Abidjan, the head of the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI), Pierre Schori, told reporters at the weekend that the situation in the west is “very worrying…because it can lead to a humanitarian disaster.”
Staff from the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres-France are among the few humanitarian agents left behind in the region, according to head of mission Hiam Elzein, who said MSF-France's health and nutritional centres were continuing to function.
“We’re trying to maintain a humanitarian presence,” she said.
The densely forested region around Guiglo is home to a refugee camp for 8,000 Liberians and a camp sheltering some 6,000 Burkinabe farmers, driven off their plantations in Cote d’Ivoire during three years of conflict.
Nearly all aid workers were forced out of the region last week when mobs began to burn and loot UN facilities following the death of five youths when peacekeepers opened fire following an attack on a UN military compound.
Following the clashes several hundred Bangladeshi peacekeepers left their bases in Guiglo and the nearby town of Duekoue, retreating to the buffer zone that separates the rebel and government zones.
For the refugees and displaced persons stranded in the west, WFP’s Dieng says the priority must be to resume aid to those who need it. “We must return there. We cannot just abandon them.”
Meanwhile rebels and opposition newspapers have condemned ONUCI for leaving the area, which is known to harbour thousands of armed pro-government militants. Last year the west was the scene of bloody ethnic clashes that left at least 100 dead and thousands displaced.
The opposition daily Nord-Sud called the Bangladeshi peacekeepers “armed tourists” incapable of protecting the population that needs them the most - a sentiment shared by many residents of the main city, Abidjan, especially in the immigrant community.
Protests demanding the departure of the more than 10,000 UN and French peacekeeping troops from the country erupted after mediators monitoring a UN peace plan said there were no grounds to prolong the National Assembly’s five-year mandate, which expired on 16 December.
Interpreting the mediators’ statement as a move to dissolve parliament, pro-Gbagbo youths who call themselves the ?Young Patriots’ took to the streets.
Youths set up roadblocks across the city, intimidating residents and besieging ONUCI headquarters as well as the French embassy.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called the events “orchestrated violence directed against the United Nations, the population, as well as the inactions of some national authorities in responding to the situation."
The UN Security Council was to convene late on Monday to decide whether to impose sanctions on Ivorians judged to be obstructing the peace process.
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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