Friday

5th Mar 2021

France set to evacuate EU expats in Ivory Coast

  • French reinforcements arriving in Abidjan at the weekend. Gbagbo has called the soldiers an "occupation force" (Photo: defense.gouv.fr)

The French army has taken control of Abidjan airport and begun herding expats into protected areas in anticipation of a bloody battle for control of the Ivorian capital.

France's 1,500-strong military force in the Ivory Coast on Sunday (3 April) stationed armoured personnel carriers in the Felix Houphet Boigny international airport and called for expats to go to protected areas in the army camp in Port Bouet, the Wafou hotel in the south of Abidjan and the French embassy in the north.

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"Housing conditions will be precarious but your safety will be assured," the French embassy in Abidjan said on its website.

Some 12,200 French citizens live in the former French colony together with 1,000 to 2,000 other EU nationals, including 150 British citizens.

The French minister of defence, Gerard Longuet, on Sunday in Paris said: "This [whether to start a mass evacuation] is a question which is being asked and which will be settled in the next few hours."

Speaking earlier to EUobserver, a French diplomat noted that French forces in a previous conflict in 2004 helped other EU citizens to get out. "Do you think it is imaginable that we would refuse to take people from other EU countries?" the contact added.

The crisis comes as the UN-recognised winner of recent elections, Alassane Ouattara, prepares to do battle for the capital city with incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, after four months of civil war.

A Gbagbo spokesman on Sunday indicated that French nationals could become a target, calling the French soldiers an "occupation force" and accusing France and European mercenaries of supporting the Outtara "rebellion." A scrolling banner on Ivorian TV said: "Sarkozy's men are preparing a Rwandan genocide in the Ivory Coast."

Gbagbo forces last week shot at a car in the convoy of the French ambassador, Jean-Marc Simon.

"Gbagbo has no respect for anything and will not hesitate to try to take human life, Ivorian or foreign, in his campaign of blind violence," the French embassy said in a statement at the time.

Hundreds of Ivorians have already been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The Catholic charity Caritas last week reported that 1,000 people were massacred in the town of Duekoue. It remains uncertain whether Gbagbo or Outtara loyalists are responsible.

The International Crisis Group think-tank in a statement on Sunday said: "The death toll could reach thousands within days ... The situation in Cote d'Ivoire is as urgent as any facing the international community right now. The unthinkable is unfolding before our eyes."

The French military mission has no mandate to protect Ivorian civilians but does have the right to protect UN forces in the country, whose task is to shield ordinary people from violence.

A UN Security Council resolution last week called for a ceasefire and spoke of criminal proceedings for leaders found guilty of atrocities but made no mention of outside military intervention on the Libyan model of "responsibility to protect."

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