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UN Ivory Coast Mission Reduces Presence, Militants Threaten


The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast is pulling out a portion of its civilian staff, as the Security Council weighs possible sanctions against supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo. Pro-Gbagbo militants say they are mobilizing their supporters to react.

Hundreds of the United Nations' civilian staff in Ivory Coast have been pulled out of the war-divided country in what the peacekeeping mission termed a temporary transfer. French acronym ONUCI, said plans had been drawn up for the relocation of non-essential personnel, the majority of the non-military staff, to the Gambia. The move comes a week after violent protests targeting U.N. facilities and personnel paralyzed the government-controlled south.

Thousands of Gbagbo supporters, known as Young Patriots, laid siege to the U.N. headquarters in Abidjan. Offices were ransacked in several towns and peacekeepers fired on protesters, killing at least four and injuring a dozen others, after their base was overrun in the western town of Guiglo.

The U.N.'s special representative in Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori, was in New York Thursday and told journalists that the mission had been ill-equipped to deal with the attacks. The U.N. Security Council decided Wednesday to extend ONUCI's mandate until mid-December. Diplomats expect the body will soon decide whether to level sanctions against supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo involved in organizing the demonstrations.

Young Patriot leaders like Eugene Djue say any move to sanction them will be met with renewed protests. "If they decided to sanction us, we will consider that they are taking us for idiots," Djue told VOA. That will provoke a reaction that will be difficult to keep under control, he said.

Young Patriot leaders and the head of at least one pro-Gbagbo militia have this week been visiting towns in western Ivory Coast, the scene of much of last week's violence.

"I'm visiting the places where there were clashes between Young Patriots and ONUCI," Djue said. We're giving clear instructions to the people there that there is no question of sanctioning anyone here.

Ivory Coast has been divided in two since rebels seized the northern half of the country in late 2002. Successive attempts to broker an end to the civil war have failed. The Young Patriots are demanding the immediate disarmament of the rebels.

Around 11,000 U.N. peacekeepers and U.N.-mandated French soldiers are in Ivory Coast. Most patrol a buffer zone separating the rebels, known as the New Forces, and government troops.