Côte d’Ivoire: UN condemns firing at helicopter and killing of civilians

UN Blue Helmets on patrol in Côte d’Ivoire

29 March 2011 – The United Nations peacekeeping force in Côte d’Ivoire reported today that one of its helicopters was shot at by forces loyal to the country’s President and denounced the killing of a dozen civilians in the commercial capital, Abidjan, by another armed group.

“Elements of the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI) fired at the helicopter, but failed to hit it,” said the mission, known as UNOCI, strongly condemning yesterday’s attack against the helicopter, which it said could be considered a war crime. The FRCI support Alassane Ouattara, who won the UN-certified and internationally recognized presidential elections last November.

The attack took place while the helicopter was on a reconnaissance flight above the western Ivorian town of Duékoué, the scene of fierce fighting in recent days between the FRCI and forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the former president who refuses to cede power despite losing to Mr. Ouattara at the polls.

In another violent incident yesterday, the mission said pro-Gbagbo forces shot at innocent civilians in the Abidjan suburb of Williamsville, killing about a dozen people.

A group of pro-Gbagbo youths also put a tyre around a young man and burned him alive in the Riviera area of Abidjan, while another gang savagely attacked two UNOCI staff members.

“UNOCI condemns this wave of atrocities against civilians and warns that these acts will not go unpunished,” the mission said in a statement.

“With the increase in human rights violations and barbaric practices, there are grounds for wondering whether President Gbagbo is still in charge of his forces and supporters. UNOCI believes it is imperative to end this spiral of violence by finding a definitive solution to the political impasse which stemmed from the post-electoral crisis,” it added.

UNOCI urged authorities concerned to do everything in their power to identify those responsible for yesterday’s firing at its helicopter so that they can be held accountable for their action.

The mission “reiterates its military impartiality and once again urges all the parties to quickly find a definitive solution to the post-electoral crisis in order to end the suffering of the Ivorian people,” it added.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meanwhile, said a total of 116,000 Ivorian refugees have fled to eight countries in West Africa, with all but 4,000 of them having entered Liberia.

“With each new clash in western Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia is in turn seeing new arrivals of refugees,” spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva. She said Liberia’s western county of Grand Gedeh has over the past week received the largest influx of Ivorian refugees.

People fleeing Côte d’Ivoire have also sought refuge in Ghana, Togo, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria, according to UNHCR.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the appeal for funds to assist refugees in Liberia has been revised with requirements almost tripled to $146.5 million for an estimated 150,000 refugees. Some $35 million has been received so far, according to spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced that it would focus on three tasks in Côte d’Ivoire – getting 800,000 children back to school; ensuring basic health care for mothers and children; and providing an estimated 1.5 million people in the north and west with reliable access to electricity and water.

UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado told reporters in Geneva that the achievement of those goals would depend of the level of funding, saying that only about 20 per cent of UNICEF’s $33 million funding appeal had so far been met.

According to Fadéla Chaib, spokesperson for the UN World Health Organization (WHO), a vaccination campaign against yellow fever was launched on 25 March and would continue until 1 April, targeting some 2 million people in south-eastern Côte d’Ivoire.

Some 700,000 children between the ages of nine months and five years would also be given vitamin A and de-worming medication.

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