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February 28, 2011

UN Says Ivory Coast Incumbent Government Arming Civilians

United Nations allegations that Ivory Coast's incumbent government is breaking an international arms embargo is increasing tension between government supporters and U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. U.N. officials believe the government is now arming civilians.

Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo tried to expel the entire U.N. mission, shortly after it certified his rival,  Alassane Ouattara, as the winner of November's presidential election.

But the United Nations refused to terminate the mission because it no longer recognizes  Gbagbo's authority.  The peacekeeping force was expanded, in part, to better protect the resort hotel where Gbagbo troops are surrounding Ouattara.

With government forces battling pro-Ouattara rebels near the border with Liberia and renewed clashes in Abidjan entering their second week, the Gbagbo government is stepping up its campaign to portray the United Nations as an enemy of the Ivorian people.

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Gbagbo of breaking an international arms embargo by receiving attack helicopters from Belarus, Gbagbo spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said it was a lie, meant to justify a U.N. attack against Gbagbo supporters.

Gbagbo youth leader Charles Ble Goude says U.N. peacekeepers are waging war on behalf of rebels.

Goude says it is the same thing that happened with U.N. troops in Liberia and Congo and Rwanda.  He says the population was exterminated in the presence of U.N. troops. Goude says Gbagbo supporters will not allow that to happen in Ivory Coast.

Goude is calling on Gbagbo supporters to block the movement of all U.N. personnel.  Three peacekeepers were wounded when their patrol was shot at.  The deputy spokesman for the U.N. mission here, Kenneth Blackman, says the security situation is deteriorating rapidly.

"We have credible reports that civilians have been armed by the Gbagbo camp.  And, this is extremely alarming.  In such cases, armed civilians are considered combatants.  Therefore, I think it is really an alarming development and it makes of course our job that much more difficult," said Blackman.

The United Nations is condemning what it calls a new style of propaganda by Gbagbo supporters.  It denies taking sides in this conflict and says what it calls these "wicked" lies are meant to create hatred among Gbagbo supporters to prevent the United Nations from protecting civilians.

Blackman says peacekeepers are determined to fulfill that mandate.

"Under the rules of engagement which govern the deployment of peacekeepers here, they are allowed to use force to protect themselves, to protect U.N. personnel, to protect U.N. material and to protect freedom of movement.  And, definitely, they will apply these rules," he said.

The secretary-general is asking U.N. peacekeepers to take all necessary action, within their mandate, to ensure that Belarussian attack helicopters and other arms are not used.  U.N. personnel who went to the airport in Yamoussoukro Monday to investigate were turned away by Gbagbo security forces.