Conflict & Justice

Ivory Coast: Gbagbo fights back (Video)


Women carry goods on their heads as they return from shopping at the Abobo market, a suburb of Abidjan, on April 7, 2011 where life started returning to normal after weeks of clashes between forces loyal to internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara and those backing strongman Laurent Gbagbo.


Issouf Sanogo

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Besieged Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo is not down yet.

Although he is holed up in a bunker at the presidential residence, his troops have regrouped and are well armed. They are launching a new fight against forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the November presidential election. Gbagbo's men are also fighting against the United Nations peacekeeping force and French troops.

The offer to surrender earlier this week by Gbagbo's top three generals was a "trick" to buy time, charged the head of U.N. peacekeeping Friday, according to AP.

U.N. peacekeeping director Alain Le Roy said told reporters in New York that Gbagbo and his military men used negotiations on Tuesday as a ploy to consolidate power. The generals said they had told their troops to put down their arms and turn themselves in to the U.N. but few did that.  

"They said they came to us to negotiate a peaceful exit and that has not happened," Le Roy said of the generals. "It is very clear that the time was used Tuesday during negotiations for Mr. Gbagbo to reinforce his position."

It was believed that Gbagbo, who had taken refuge in the fortified basement of the presidential residence, had fewer than 200 troop. All his heavy arms, artillery and mortars had been knocked out by strikes from U.N. and French forces.

But now it is clear Gbagbo still has some heavy arms around his little fort and it appears there are at least 1,000 of his men in the Cocody neighborhood surrounding the presidential residence.

Forces loyal to Gbagbo have since regained control of two central areas of Abidjan and fighting is continuing, Le Roy said, after briefing the U.N. Security Council on developments in the cocoa-producing nation.

But while fighting continued in the posh Cocody neighborhood, the U.N. and French forces were working to return Abidjan to normal. The 1,500 French troops and the 2,500 U.N. peacekeepers in Abidjan, worked to assert control over the city. The French military has been working to reconnect the disrupted water and electricity supply. In some parts of Abidjan civilians are returning to the streets, seeking food and water.

There appeared to be a standoff, however, outside Abidjan's Golf Hotel, where Gbagbo's rival and the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara, is staying under U.N. protection. Le Roy said Gbagbo's forces are outside the hotel, reported CNN.

Le Roy said that if that hotel comes under attack, the United Nations may have to consider using force against Gbagbo and his men.

Pro-Gbagbo forces have heavy weapons including tanks, armored personnel carriers, mortars, M-21 rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades, and they are using them "as we speak against the civilian population" and U.N. headquarters, Le Roy said.

"Those who are saying there are no more heavy weapons — that Mr. Gbagbo has no more heavy weapons — it's a lie," he said.

Earlier, French military sources said the French ambassador's residence in Abidjan came under attack by forces loyal to Gbagbo, but a Gbagbo spokesman said that was "impossible" because U.N. forces are surrounding all the ambassadors' residences.

Earlier, the European Union said it had agreed to ease sanctions imposed against the country.

Alassane Ouattara, the country's internationally recognized president, had appealed for the easing to enable cocoa exports in the world's largest producer of the crop to resume.