Three UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast were injured Jan. 11 when their patrol was ambushed by forces loyal to president Laurent Gbagbo in the main city of Abidjan. The West African country has been divided since the incumbent Gbagbo has refused to cede power to rival Alassane Ouattara following the contested Dec. 28 presidential election. The UN is recognizing Ouattara as the winner. Gbagbo supporters meanwhile told AlJazeera that UN troops fired on them in the violence that followed the elections—a claim the UN denies.
Earlier Jan. 11, at least five police officers were killed in the worst armed clashes since the disputed election. The violence erupted between supporters of the rival candidates in Abidjan’s pro-Ouattara neighborhood of Abobo. The previous day, at least four residents were killed as security forces tried to conduct house-to-house searches. Two police officers are also reported to have been killed in those clashes. (The Guardian, Fox News, Jan. 12 AlJazeera, Jan. 8)
The conflict is dividing the country along regional lines. UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ndolam Ngokwey, after returning from a two-day mission to Ivory Coast’s west, told the UN news agency IRIN that the western cities of Guiglo and Duékoué continue to recognize Gbagbo’s rule, while Man and Danané, the two major towns just to the north, are in territory controlled by the pro-Ouattara Forces Nouvelles. He warned that humanitarian needs in the west are quickly growing in the atmosphere of crisis. (IRIN, Jan. 11)
There are some points of continuity with the last time Ivory Coast teetered on the brink of civil war, in 2006. Then, as now, violence pitted Gbagbo’s forces against UN troops. Then, as now, Gbagbo claimed the support of the mainly Christian south, with the opposition solidifying a base among Muslims in the north. Then, France—which actually got into a brief shooting war with Gbagbo’s regime in 2004—was seen as backing the opposition forces, while the region’s Anglophone giant Nigeria (with the presumed support of the US and UK) was seen as backing Gbagbo.
Now, however, Gbagbo seems to have otlived his usefulness to the Anglophone powers. Nigeria‘s Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said before the opening of a regional summit on the Ivory Coast crisis late last month that leaders will not compromise on their demand that Gbagbo step down. “The question of compromise is not on the table,” Ajumogobia said ahead of the special summit of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). (AFP, Dec. 14)
Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo was sent on an “unofficial” diplomatic mission to Ivory Coast this week in an effort to mediate an end to the crisis—to no avail. Obasanjo met with both Gbagbo and Ouattara, While Gbagbo continues to occupy the presidential palace, Ouattara has been forced to live in a hotel guarded by some 800 UN troops. The UN troops are in turn surrounded by a ring of Gbagbo-loyal troops who have besieged the hotel, with all supplies to Ouattara and his administration flown in by UN helicopter to the hotel’s courtyard. While the conversations between Obasanjo and Gbagbo have not been made public, the former Nigerian strongman is said to have threatened ECOWAS military intervention. (AP, Jan. 12)