UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Top UN official meets with authorities after anti-UN violence
ABIDJAN, 15 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - The UN’s top humanitarian official Jan Egeland is in war-torn Cote d’Ivoire seeking assurances from authorities that January’s anti-UN violence will not be repeated and that ringleaders of the attacks will be punished.
“To those who have carried out criminal behaviour - attacking humanitarians or civilians - we are coming with a message that stimulating violence or attacking has to be punished,” the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs said in the main city Abidjan on Wednesday.
“They have to be arrested - that’s criminal behaviour under national and international law,” Egeland said, after meeting with Ivorian minister for foreign affairs, Youssouf Bakayoko.
Egeland said the UN is committed to continuing humanitarian operations in the country, where UN agencies are currently assisting one in five of the country’s 17 million population.
Egeland arrived in Cote d’Ivoire on Tuesday to meet with Ivorian leaders, including President Laurent Gbagbo, and humanitarian partners. Before leaving the country on Friday, Egeland is scheduled to travel to the rebel stronghold of Bouake and to the western town of Guiglo, where pro-Gbagbo militants looted and torched UN facilities during four days of violence in January, forcing UN peacekeepers and aid workers to flee.
“I have received assurances from the government that this will never be repeated and that the government has taken a number of actions to prevent such an event in future,” Egeland said. “This is good new for us, because we don’t want to leave Cote d’Ivoire – we want to stay and continue our effective actions for all the Ivorian people.”
The UN maintains a 7,000-strong peacekeeping force in Cote d’Ivoire and thousands more UN civilian staff provide humanitarian assistance to the war-divided country.
Aid operations are focused on the troubled west, which saw the heaviest fighting when a failed coup in September 2002 launched a civil war that has left Cote d’Ivoire split between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.
And when UN facilities became the target for protests across the south last month, the west once again saw the worst of the violence.
Damage to UN property in the January riots is estimated at over US $3 million, according to UN officials. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sent the bill to President Gbagbo, Annan’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said last week.
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