Côte d'Ivoire

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator on Situation in Côte d'Ivoire

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Aid to thousands of civilians across Côte d'Ivoire was running out as "extremely serious human rights violations" continued unabated, said the United Nations top humanitarian officer at a Headquarters press conference today.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos briefed correspondents on the heels of what she called a "deeply troubling" visit to the West African nation. "I saw for myself the terrible impact that the violence, which is still taking place in the country, is having on ordinary people," said Ms. Amos, who also visited Liberia to assess the situation of refugees fleeing Côte d'Ivoire.

Dead bodies, stories of recent executions and reports of thousands fleeing into the forests to avoid armed militants were just some of the things she had encountered during her visit, she said. Unrest has plagued Côte d'Ivoire since defeated President Laurent Gbagbo first refused to relinquish power to his elected successor, Alassane Ouattara, in December 2010.

With only 26 per cent of the funds needed for an effective humanitarian intervention, said Ms. Amos, the most pressing problem facing those affected by the violence was a lack of sufficient aid. The United Nations and its humanitarian partners were "doing their utmost", she added, but there was still a long way to go. One of the most serious concerns now was the urgent need to get supplies into the country before the upcoming rainy season, when significant logistical and transport problems were likely. A new appeal for funding would be issued in the coming days, she said.

Ms. Amos added that she was particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in the main city of Abidjan, where aid workers faced serious impediments in accessing affected populations. She described her visits to several hubs for civilians displaced by the violence. An estimated 40,000 people had sought refuge in a Catholic mission compound, she said. Some had walked more than 200 kilometres to get there and, despite a rapidly dwindling supply of water and food, many were too afraid to leave the "relative safety" of the overcrowded compound.

Supplies were also short across the border in Liberia, where more than 120,000 Ivorians had fled, said Ms. Amos. She noted that the majority of the refugees were being hosted by ordinary Liberian families, who were sharing what food and shelter they could spare.

"The Government of Liberia and the Liberian people deserve much credit for the welcome they have given these refugees," said Ms. Amos.

Despite the severity of the current crisis, she pointed out that the problems underlying it were not new. "The events of the last week are a wake-up call to the international community" that, if the hard-won peace in West Africa was to be preserved, action must be taken now, she said.

Responding a question about what actions — apart from humanitarian interventions — the United Nations should be taking in Côte d'Ivoire, Ms. Amos said that efforts to find a political solution to the crisis were urgently needed. The United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), among other partners, were already engaged in that effort. A sustained process of reconciliation would also be needed, and was already beginning. Additionally, it was important to continue to consider the regional impact of the crisis.

In response to a question about the recent air strikes by United Nations and French helicopters, Ms. Amos said that the action had been taken in support of the United Nations mandate to protect civilians there. The United Nations Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) had come under direct attack, she said, making it difficult for peacekeepers to carry out that mandate.

One correspondent asked about the loyalties of the militia who were carrying out the grave human rights violations described by Ms. Amos, asking specifically if they were loyal to Mr. Gbagbo or to President Ouattara. That was still unclear, she said, adding that she had received many conflicting reports. More information would be available after a United Nations investigation on that matter.

For information media • not an official record

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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