The UN Security Council today authorized the immediate reinforcement of its nearly 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Côte d'Ivoire with an additional 2,000 peacekeepers and three armed helicopters to help protect civilians in the post-electoral deadlock gripping the country.
In a unanimous resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for the use of force, the Security Council also voiced deep concern at the continued violence against civilians and UN peacekeepers in the West African nation. Cote d'Ivoire has been subjected to political unrest since late last year when its former president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down despite the internationally recognized victory of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in run-off elections held in November.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative and head of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), Y. J. Choi, has said reinforcements to UNOCI will provide a "rapid reaction capability" essential for the protection of civilians both in Abidjan, where Gbagbo loyalists have launched attacks, and in the country's west, which has seen an outburst of ethnic fighting.
The Council authorized the additional troop deployment until 30 June as well as the temporary transfer to UNOCI for four weeks of three armed helicopters from the UN peacekeeping mission in neighbouring Liberia and said that those responsible for crimes against UN personnel and civilians must be held accountable.
It also extended by four more weeks the temporary redeployment from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) of three infantry companies and two military utility helicopters sent in connection with the elections, which were meant to be a culminating point in the UNOCI-monitored effort to reunify a country split by a 2002 civil war into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.
Mr. Gbagbo has demanded UNOCI's withdrawal - which the UN has rejected - and his loyalists have launched attacks against the peacekeepers in Abidjan in what Mr. Choi has called "a very, very hostile" situation. The latest incident took place on Monday night, when Gbagbo loyalists opened fire in the direction of UNOCI vehicles in charge of security for the African Union (AU) emissary, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
In its resolution, the Council reiterated its authorization for Mr. Choi "to use all necessary means to carry out UNOCI's mandate, including protection of civilians and to ensure its freedom of movement," and demanded "unhindered and immediate access" for peacekeepers throughout the country.
The Council also called for an end to the blockade imposed by Gbagbo forces around the Golf Hotel, in Abidjan, where Mr. Ouattara and members of his government are currently based under UN protection. Mr. Choi has likened the situation around the Golf Hotel to a "cat and mouse game" with the presidential guard imposing a severe stranglehold while the regular army and the police allow provisions to pass.
The Council also demanded "without prejudice to freedom of expression" an immediate halt to the use of media, especially state television under Mr. Gbagbo's control, "to propagate false information and to incite hatred and violence, including against the UN and particularly UNOCI," and reiterated its readiness to impose targeted sanctions against those obstructing the UN mission.
The UN, AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have all been trying to resolve the situation, demanding that Mr. Gbagbo step down, but the situation remains deadlocked with Mr. Gbagbo proposing a power-sharing arrangement, which Mr. Choi has said would be a bad precedent in view of his clear electoral defeat and 18 other elections due in Africa this year. ECOWAS has also mentioned a military option to end the crisis.