Friday, April 8, 2011

Gbagbo's troops regain ground in Abidjan

UN peacekeeping chief says Ivorian presidential loser used negotiations as a "trick" in fight to hold power.
Ouattara's troops, with foreign assistance, have isolated Gbagbo, leaving
the rest of Abidjan a ghost town [REUTERS]

(Al Jazeera) - Forces loyal to Cote d'Ivoire incumbent Laurent Gbagbo have regained ground in Abidjan and fully control the upscale Plateau and Cocody areas, UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said on Friday.

Le Roy said that Gbagbo's forces, under attack by those of internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara, had used a lull for peace talks that began on Tuesday as a "trick" to reinforce their positions. They still had heavy weapons, though UN and French forces had destroyed some of them, Le Roy told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council.

"We have seen heavy weapons to be transferred to the Cocody area, including this morning," he said.

Gbagbo forces were just one kilometre from the hotel headquarters of internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara, Le Roy said.

"While we speak they may be very close to the Golf Hotel," he said.

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Abidjan, said she had heard gunfire and helicopters from the direction of Cocody throughout the day.

The Constitutional Council declared Gbagbo the winner of the November 28 president election after nullifying earlier results that showed Ouattara emerging with the most votes, but the international community, including the United Nations, has recognised Ouattara and is working to oust Gbagbo.

The fighting between the two sides has raged throughout Cote d'Ivoire and in Abidjan, the country's commercial capital, where both Gbagbo and Ouattara currently reside - Gbagbo in a bunker, Ouattara in the posh but heavily guarded hotel.

Reports of extreme violence have emerged in recent days. The Catholic charity Caritas on Sunday said that more than 1,000 civilians had been killed in the town of Duekoue and blamed Ouattara's troops for the violence. Since Friday, UN forces have found more than 100 bodies in several towns - some burned alive and others thrown down wells.

In Abidjan, Gbagbo has remained defiant in the face of increasing pressure. French and UN helicopters have attacked his presidential palace, where Gbagbo is staying with his wife, while Gbagbo's troops reportedly attacked the residence of the French ambassador, though a spokesman for the embattled leader denied that such an attack had occurred.

His RTI television also came back on the air Friday and broadcasted an appeal for support.

"The regime of Gbagbo is still in place, a strong mobilisation is required by the population," it said.

Gbagbo is believed to be defended by a force of around 1,000 presidential guard troops and youth militiamen.

Their possible advance led diplomats from 23 countries to ask UN and French forces for help evacuating. The United Nations said that Indian, South Korean, South African and Israeli diplomats had been moved away in armoured personnel carriers with military escorts.