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February 27, 2011

UN Accuses Belarus of Violating Ivory Coast Arms Embargo

by Scott Stearns

The United Nations said Monday that Belarus has broken an international arms embargo on Ivory Coast by supplying the incumbent government with attack helicopters.  The incumbent government says the accusations are meant to justify a U.N. attack on Abidjan.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the first of three attack helicopters from Belarus arrived in Ivory Coast's political capital Yamoussoukro late Sunday.

In a written statement, Mr. Ban called the shipments a serious violation of the 2004 arms embargo against Ivory Coast.  He warned of "appropriate action" against the supplier and the government of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr. 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.  U.N. personnel who went to the airport in Yamoussoukro on Monday to investigate were turned away.

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

Mr. Gbagbo's spokesman also denies the accusation, calling it a "lie" to justify an attack against the Gbagbo government by U.N. peacekeepers who he says are backing rebels who support the U.N.-certified winner of November's presidential vote, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara.

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

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 in Yamoussoukro and in the commercial capital Abidjan.

The Gbagbo government has imposed an overnight curfew in the Abidjan neighborhoods of Abobo and Anyama through Wednesday.  The U.N. refugee agency says more than 30,000 civilians have fled those areas as renewed fighting here enters its second week.