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UN and French Forces Attack Gbagbo's Heavy Weapons in Abidjan

Soldiers allied with Alassane Ouattara stand in a road in the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, April 10, 2011

Soldiers allied with Alassane Ouattara stand in a road in the Youpougon neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, April 10, 2011

United Nations and French helicopters on Sunday attacked heavy weapons at the residence of Ivory Coast's incumbent president. The United Nations and the United States say incumbent government forces used a brief ceasefire last week to regroup and rearm.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he ordered the attacks in keeping with the Security Council mandate to protect civilians and U.N. peacekeepers after he says forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo shelled the headquarters of the internationally-recognized president Alassane Ouattara on Saturday.

In a written statement, the secretary-general says those actions are unacceptable and cannot continue. He says civilians are bearing the brunt of violence in Abidjan and that Mr. Gbagbo needs to step down immediately to stop the fighting.

He again asked French forces in Ivory Coast to join the attack as they did last Monday, when helicopters began bombing Gbagbo positions. The spokesman for the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast, Hamadou Toure, says officials stopped that campaign to evaluate its results and resumed attacks on Sunday when they concluded that Mr. Gbagbo's troops were still using heavy artillery, tanks and rocket launchers.

Sunday's U.N. airstrikes focused on the presidential compound where Mr. Gbagbo is in an underground bunker, refusing to admit that he lost last November's presidential vote. Witnesses in Abidjan say they saw black smoke rising from the area.

Mr. Gbagbo's spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, says incumbent government troops are not responsible for shelling Mr. Ouattara's headquarters. He accuses the United Nations of lying about the assault to justify continued airstrikes. Mello says Ivorians should resist French forces, who he says are launching barbaric attacks alongside Mr. Ouattara's fighters and U.N. peacekeepers.

The head of U.N. peacekeeping says nearly 1,000 fighters loyal to Mr. Gbagbo regained ground in downtown Abidjan and in the Cocody neighborhood near the presidential compound, after using a brief ceasefire last week to reinforce their positions.

The U.S. State Department says that last week's attempt to negotiate Mr. Gbagbo's surrender was a ruse to regroup and rearm. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner says Mr. Gbagbo's efforts to force a result that he could not achieve at the ballot box show is, in his words, a "callous disregard for the welfare of the Ivorian people, who will again suffer amid renewed heavy fighting in Abidjan."

Mr. Gbagbo says he was reelected when the constitutional council annulled as fraudulent nearly 10 percent of ballots cast in his run-off election with Mr. Ouattara. Electoral commission results certified by the United Nations show Mr. Ouattara won the vote.