U.N. should do more to stop Ivory Coast violence: France

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 24, 2011 9:25 AM

By Tim Cocks ABIDJAN (Reuters) - France called Thursday for the U.N. force in Ivory Coast to do more to stop violence, adding to growing pressure on the world body to take bolder action to halt the country's slide into all-out civil war.

U.N. forces are protecting Alassane Ouattara, who won a November 28 election according to U.N.-certified results.

They have accused the forces of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down, of using heavy weapons against civilians. Gbagbo's camp has denied the charges.

The appeal from ex-colonial ruler France, which has troops in Ivory Coast but has ruled out intervening itself, follows growing complaints from inside and outside the country over inaction as the toll from the crisis mounts.

"There is a U.N. force on the ground. I think it should, without doubt, play its role more efficiently because it has a mandate that allows it to use force if there are clashes or there is violence," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France 2 television. The remarks were reported on the website of French broadcaster RFI.

Ouattara has called for more to be done to protect civilians and Nigeria, current leader of West Africa's ECOWAS bloc, is also seeking more decisive U.N. action.

A U.N. human rights officer said security forces loyal to Gbagbo were indiscriminately shelling neighborhoods seen as pro-Ouattara, and had killed 50 people in past week, bringing the confirmed death toll from the conflict to 462. Another 450,000 people have fled their homes.

"(Gbagbo's) special forces have been firing and launching explosives indiscriminately on part of the population suspected to be pro-Ouattara," Guillaume N'Gefa, a U.N. human rights official based in Abidjan told a news conference Thursday.

"We have registered ... from these indiscriminate attacks 50 deaths, including five children, and many dozens of wounded."

The U.N. mission said earlier this week it was monitoring the use of heavy weapons and would take action within its mandate against any attempt to use them.

Gbagbo's government has repeatedly denied allegations its forces have used heavy weapons against civilians, and accuses the U.N. mission of siding with "rebels" trying to oust him.

West African leaders were meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja Thursday to discuss the crisis. Nigeria has accused the international community of double standards for imposing a no-fly zone in Libya but doing little in Ivory Coast.

Ouattara has been recognized as Ivory Coast's president by world leaders but Gbagbo, with the backing of much of the armed forces, has refused to stand down and accused the international community of interfering in a sovereign matter.

Gbagbo has denied accusations that his camp is responsible for most of the abuses, some of which rights groups say may constitute crimes against humanity.

(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Graff)