4 April 2011 – United Nations peacekeepers in Côte d'Ivoire, supported by French forces, carried out a military operation today to prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilians in Abidjan after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon instructed them to take "all necessary measures" to defend themselves and protect innocent lives amid the worsening crisis in the West African nation.
The security situation has deteriorated "dramatically" over the past days, Mr. Ban said in a statement, with fighting having escalated between forces loyal to the democratically-elected and UN-certified president, Alassane Ouattara, and those forces remaining loyal to the former leader, Laurent Gbagbo.
"This is a direct consequence of Mr. Gbagbo's refusal to relinquish power and allow a peaceful transition to President Ouattara," he stated. "The country has been plunged into violence with a heavy toll on the civilian population."
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, the country's commercial capital.
These forces have also targeted the headquarters of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) at Sebroko Hotel with heavy-calibre sniper fire, as well as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Four peacekeepers have been wounded in these attacks.
Forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo have also attacked UNOCI patrols dispatched to protect civilians and convoys transporting wounded in Abidjan, resulting in several more wounded peacekeepers.
Consequently, Mr. Ban instructed the 8,000-strong UNOCI to take "necessary measures" to prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilians, with the support of French forces and in line with previous Security Council resolutions. The mission undertook a military operation to this effect around 5 p.m. local time today.
"Let me emphasize that UNOCI is not a party to the conflict," Mr. Ban stated. "In line with its Security Council mandate, the mission has taken this action in self defence and to protect civilians."
The post-electoral crisis that began following the November presidential run-off has resulted in the deaths of at least 500 people and the displacement of up to 1 million, many of whom have fled to neighbouring countries. There have also been reports of massacres and other forms of brutality and human rights violations against civilians amid the turmoil.
Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who arrived in Abidjan yesterday, has expressed deep concern over the worsening human rights situation.
During his visit, Mr. Simonovic will have meetings with the Ivorian authorities, political leaders and civil society. He will also hold talks with the representatives of the international community, the UN system and the diplomatic corps, as well as go on field visits.
The Assistant Secretary-General will also take the opportunity to remind all parties to the Ivorian conflict of their individual and collective responsibility to ensure that international human rights law and humanitarian law are respected. He will urge them to immediately take necessary measures to protect civilians, especially women and children, and put an end to all human rights abuses.