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April 03, 2011

Abidjan Residents 'Running Scared' following UN, French Attacks

by Peter Clottey

An Abidjan resident says Ivorians in the country’s commercial capital are, in his words, running scared, after the United Nations and the French army attacked positions of forces loyal to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo Monday.

Issaka Bambou says all commercial activity has ground to a “screeching halt” following the attacks.

“I was just passing and I heard the aircraft of the U.N. and the aircraft of France. They just shot at the military camp and they have destroyed the whole place. So, you can see the smoke going up from the camp and everybody here is very disappointed and they are just going around and running away,” said Bambou.

“This is the camp which is not far away from here. [It] is called the Akouedo camp... the camp is about five kilometers from Abidjan. The sounds you are hearing are coming from the U.N. and the French aircraft shooting at the camp. All the civilians are running away and very, very afraid,” Bambou said.

Eyewitnesses say, as the attacks continued, forces loyal to internationally-recognized President Alassane Ouattara pushed toward the few remaining positions still being held by Gbagbo loyalists.

Bambou says many Ivorians are disappointed by the U.N. and French attacks.

“Well, President Gbagbo is just about two or three miles from here. So, he is not so far from where they [French and U.N.] are attacking. We are just hiding and some civilians are running everywhere,” said Bambou.

“Nobody is safe here. We are all hiding in our rooms and under the bed. We are very, very afraid now. All the doors are shaking and are crumbling. We also saw some people who ventured outside killed on the road,” he added.

The U.N. mission says helicopters fired on two Gbagbo army camps, the presidential palace and Gbagbo's residence, all in the main city of Abidjan. France says its forces took part in the attack at the U.N.'s request.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the attacks were meant to prevent the use of mortars and other heavy weapons against civilians and U.N. peacekeepers. The United Nations has accused Gbagbo troops of killing Abidjan residents and wounding several peacekeepers.

The French news agency (AFP) quotes a Gbagbo advisor, Alain Toussaint, in Paris as saying the attacks were “illegal” and amounted to an assassination attempt against the incumbent leader.

There was no immediate word on Gbagbo's whereabouts or whether he was injured.

Meanwhile, Ouattara forces entered Abidjan in force Monday. Ouattara's prime minister, Guillaume Soro, has promised a “lightning offensive” against Gbagbo troops.

Pro-Ouattara forces have swept across Ivory Coast in the past week, but Gbagbo still has a band of loyalists which has surrounded the presidential palace.