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UN Accuses Belarus of Arming Ivory Coast Military in Violation of Embargo

Scott Stearns | Abidjan February 28, 2011

The United Nations says Belarus is breaking an international arms embargo on Ivory Coast by supplying the incumbent government with attack helicopters. Renewed fighting in the commercial capital enters its second week, as the country draws closer to a return to civil war.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the first delivery of three attack helicopters from Belarus arrived in Ivory Coast's political capital, Yamoussoukro, late Sunday with additional flights scheduled for Monday.

In a written statement, Ban says those shipments are a serious violation of the 2004 arms embargo against Ivory Coast. He is warning of "appropriate action" against both the supplier of this military equipment and its recipient, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.

Ban is asking the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast to take all necessary action within its mandate to ensure that the attack helicopters and other arms are not prepared for use.

The Belarussian foreign ministry denies the accusation, saying that Alexander Lukashenko's government is in strict compliance with all Security Council resolutions.

Attack helicopters would be a serious escalation of this conflict, especially as most of Gbagbo's air force was destroyed by the French military during Ivory Coast's brief civil war, eight years ago.

The pro-Gbagbo military is fighting supporters of the U.N.-certified winner of November's presidential election, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.

Government troops and rebels are battling for control of areas near the border with Liberia that were previously a buffer zone between the forces. Gbagbo and Ouattara supporters are also fighting here in the commercial capital, Abidjan, with most of the violence centered in the pro-Ouattara neighborhood of Abobo.

Fighting in Abobo Sunday knocked a state-run television transmitter off the air. The U.N. refugee agency says as many as 30,000 civilians have now fled Abobo.

Ban says violence that has broken a six-year-old cease risks re-igniting civil war.

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