22nd Oct 2020

EU maintains support for Ivory Coast president-elect

  • Former Ivory Coast PM Alassane Ouattara (right) being interviewed in 2008. Ouattara was the declared winner of presidential elections in 2010 (Photo: BBC)

The European Union has warned of an increased threat of violence in the Ivory Coast but continues to back President-elect Alassane Ouattara, despite reports that his supporters may be responsible for the deaths of up to 1,000 people in the west African state last week.

At the same time, the number of refugees escaping the violence which follows disputed presidential elections last November has continued to escalate, placing pressure on neighbouring countries such as Liberia.

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"Across Côte d'Ivoire violence is growing, with mounting civilian casualties and over a million people fleeing their homes in search of safety," EU commissioner for humanitarian aid Kristalina Georgieva said on Monday afternoon (4 April).

"I am alarmed by the reports about man-hunts and ethnic killings. I am also concerned by the spill-over impact of this conflict ... Over 120,000 refugees are flocking into poor areas where their hosts were already living on the verge of a humanitarian crisis," she added.

Despite losing last year's election, the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to step down, prompting EU and UN sanctions and outbreaks of violence in a country previously known for its prosperous cocoa industry.

An African Union-imposed deadline of 24 March for the handover of power passed with no signs of Gbagbo backing down, prompting pro-Ouattara forces to sweep down from their northern strongholds a few days later in a relentless march towards the seat of power in Abidjan.

Since then Pro-Ouattara troops have been massing just outside Abidjan amid talk of a final push.

France's 12,000 citizens in the former colony have been asked to move to three places of refugee on a voluntary basis, a "prerequisite for a potential evacuation", a French diplomat told this website on Monday.

A Gbagbo spokesman on Sunday said French nationals could become a legitimate target, calling the French soldiers an "occupation force". France sent an additional 150 soldiers to Côte d'Ivoire on Monday, bringing the country's total to 1,650.

In Brussels, a senior EU official said the threat of more violence was increasing after the two sides appeared to have reached a stalemate.

"Following the very rapid advance of forces loyal to President Ouattara ... we appeared to have reached a temporary stalemate in Abidjan, with an escalating level of violent conflict in which heavy arms are being used and civilians are clearly being caught in the cross-fire."

One EU citizens was killed by a stray bullet last week.

"It is not safe to move in Abidjan. We do not recommend people to try to get to a point of evacuation," continued the EU official, describing information surrounding the reported killing of up to 1,000 Côte d'Ivoire citizens near the town of Duekoue last week as "murky".

Ouattara has denied reports that his followers were responsible for the killings, and says the number of deaths has been grossly exaggerated. Last week, the ICRC said 800 were killed, with Catholic aid agency Caritas subsequently putting the figure at 1,000. The UN however has also disputed the high figures and is carrying out an investigation.

Until that investigation is complete, the EU will continue to back Ouattara, said the EU official. The BBC on Monday described roads in the area as being lined with body-bags, "every hundred yards or so, waiting to be collected" by the Red Cross.

Tensions between the country's muslim-dominated citizens and the south have rumbled on for many years, with a 2002 offensive by northern soldiers only prevented from capturing Abidjan by French and UN forces. Tribal tensions have also existed, with the UN blaming traditional hunters, known as Dozos, for the Duekoue killings.

Despite the threat of further violence, the West appears to have ruled out a Libya-style intervention for the moment.

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