Monday, April 4, 2011

UN fires on Gbagbo military bases Cote d'Ivoire

Fierce fighting in Cote d'Ivoire as pro-Ouattara fighters call for a "rapid offensive" in Abidjan.

(Al Jazeera) - The United Nations and French military have fired missiles at military positions of Cote d'Ivoire's incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo in the country's main city, Abidjan.

Explosions rang out near the presidential palace and at three strategic military garrisons, including the Akouedo military camp.

UN fires on Gbagbo military bases"On Monday we started an operation to neutralise heavy weapons used to attack the civilian population and UN peacekeepers in Abidjan," Hamadoun Toure, a UN spokesman, told Al Jazeera.

"Heavy weapons used by forces loyal to Gbagbo are stored in various camps in Abidjan. These sites are the targets."

He said the UN mandate is to protect civilians and that its forces would not intervene in fighting between Gbagbo troops and forces loyal the internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara, who are battling to gain control of the city.

"f it's fighting between the two armies we don't intervene, because we're impartial, we're neutral," he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement that he had authorised the 1,600-strong French force based in the country to help in the operation following an appeal from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said the use of force was necessary to prevent further attacks on civilians.

"In the past few days, forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo have intensified and escalated their use of heavy weapons such as mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns against the civilian population in Abidjan," Ban said in a statement.

Following four months of attempts to negotiate Gbagbo's departure, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution giving the 12,000-strong peacekeeping operation the right "to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence ... including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population."

'Gbagbo residence seized'

Meanwhile, there were reports that Ouattara's forces had seized Gbagbo's official residence in Abidjan. Patrick Achi, the spokesman for Ouattara's government, told Reuters news agency that he did not know if Gbagbo was in the residence at the time it was seized.

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Bassam, just outside Abidjan, said there were suggestions that the UN and France were supporting Ouattara, making it easier for his forces to gain ground in Abidjan.

"There are reports that Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, had a phone call with Ouattara earlier today," she said. "We don''t know what was said but this is an indication that there is some kind of relationship between France and Ouattara."

Earlier on Monday, a leading ally of Ouattara called for a "rapid offensive" in Abidjan.

Guillaume Soro, Ouattara's prime minister, said that fighters sent into the centre of the city had reported a "generalised panic" among Gbagbo's soldiers.

"The situation is now ripe for a rapid offensive... " he told the TCI television station. "The operation will be rapid because we have discovered the exact number of operational tanks on the ground. Ivorians must trust in the Republican Forces [Ouattara's army]."

Ouattara's forces have effectively cornered Gbagbo and his closest supporters after four days of fierce fighting.

Al Jazeera's Mutasa said the people living outside Abidjan were "on edge" after hearing that an "all-out assault by Ouattara's forces is imminent".

"The disturbing thing is the checkpoints and barricades being manned by young men who are unemployed, some of them intoxicated, armed with machetes, [who] decide who goes in and out of Abidjan," she said.