Ex-leader of Côte d'Ivoire surrenders as UN pledges to help restore rule of law

Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefs press on surrender of ex-Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo

11 April 2011 – The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Côte d'Ivoire today confirmed the surrender of the country's former president Laurent Gbagbo to forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged that the UN will help the West African country restore the rule of law after weeks of fighting and human rights abuses.

Côte d'Ivoire has been engulfed by violence since last November, when Mr. Gbagbo refused to step down from power, despite losing a UN-certified and internationally recognized presidential election to Mr. Ouattara.

“I am going to speak with President Ouattara, how the United Nations and the Côte d'Ivoire Government can work together to address all the issues which we will have in our future,” Mr. Ban told reporters today at UN Headquarters.

“First of all, we have reports that more than 1,000 people have reportedly been killed; more than 100,000 people have fled the country. We have to help them to restore stability, rule of law, and address all humanitarian situations. I am going to discuss this matter with President Ouattara and the international community,” Mr. Ban added.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council that Mr. Gbagbo was currently in custody in an apartment in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, where Mr. Ouattara and his entourage have been based under the protection of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) since the result of the election was declared.

“I can confirm that the former president and his wife are at the Golf Hotel? UNOCI has been requested to ensure their security,” said Mr. Le Roy, adding that it was up to Mr. Ouattara to decide what do to with his predecessor.

He stressed that UNOCI's military operation yesterday against Mr. Gbagbo's forces was in response to their attacks against the UN and civilians in Abidjan. Mr. Gbagbo's forces had also shelled Mr. Ouattara's residence at the weekend, he said.

In response to a question on what role the UN played in the events leading up to Mr. Gbagbo's capture, the Secretary-General said the world body acted within the mandate outlined under Security Council resolution 1975.

“We have been trying to prevent heavy weapons from killing the civilian population, and we really had to defend the United Nations peacekeepers' safety and security because we were under attack many times.

“Now that Mr. Laurent Gbagbo is in the custody of forces loyal to President Ouattara, his physical safety should be ensured. We need to think about what his future should be. That is up to President Ouattara and the Government of Côte d'Ivoire to determine. But we will very closely coordinate,” Mr. Ban added.

Mr. Le Roy described Mr. Gbagbo's surrender as a “very important step in the process,” but added that “the crisis is not over yet” in the West African nation.

“Our main task is to contribute to the restoration of the law and order in the whole country. UNOCI has a big role in that, but also President Ouattara's forces have a big role to play,” said Mr. Le Roy. “He [Mr. Ouattara] must call the police and the gendarmerie to restore law and order in Abidjan and the rest of the country. The crisis is not over at all. There is still a huge humanitarian crisis,” he added.

Up to a million people have been displaced by the violence, and aid has not been able to reach many of those in need, sparking warnings from senior UN officials about the dire situation.

“The Council is pleased [with the latest development], but it is not euphoria,” Mr. Le Roy said. He noted that there were still likely to be pockets of resistance in Abidjan, but the city was largely quiet.

The Under-Secretary-General said that the commander of Mr. Gbagbo's republican guard had contacted the UN, stating that the wanted to surrender his weapons. About 200 members of Mr. Gbagbo's forces have also surrendered to UNOCI, he added.

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan ?imonovic told reporters in New York after his return from a fact-finding mission to Côte d'Ivoire that “widespread and systematic abuses” were committed in Abidjan, including attacks against pro-Ouattara demonstrators, looting, as well as the rape of political activists.

He said that UN human rights officials estimate that 400 people were killed in Abidjan before the recent escalation of violence in the city and that 150 of them died as a result of deliberate targeting with heavy weapons.

“The current problem of Abidjan is the security vacuum,” said Mr. ?imonovic. “Most police and gendarmerie are not at their places,” he added. “Abidjan looked like a dead city? because of the security threats.”

People had run out of basic necessities, such as food and water. He also cited lack of medicines in the city as the most pressing humanitarian issue. “The humanitarian situation looked pretty desperate,” said Mr. ?imonovic.

In the west, the Assistant Secretary-General said UN officials counted 255 bodies in Duékoué, the majority of them members of the Guerre ethnic group, which as traditionally supported Mr. Gbagbo. In the nearby town of Guiglo, 104 bodies whose victims were of mixed ethnicity were found. The UN human rights team also found 40 bodies in Blolequin, to the west of Duékoué, but the number there could be higher.

Mr. ?imonovic's meeting with Mr. Ouattara focused on the security vacuum, he said, adding that the President had urged all police and members of the gendarmerie to return to work and assured them there will be no acts of retaliation. The killings in Duékoué were being investigated, Mr. Ouattara told Mr. ?imonovic.

On the issue of amnesty, Mr. ?imonovic said the Mr. Ouattara told him that he would follow the African Union (AU) recommendation that people who simply took sides in the conflict be granted amnesty. Those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity are not entitled to amnesty, according to the AU recommendation.

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