Monday

9th Dec 2019

EU: situation in Ivory Coast 'moving from bad to worse'

The humanitarian situation in the Ivory Coast is "moving from bad to worse", the European Commission has said, amid reports of ongoing violence in the west African state.

"After almost a week of fighting, people are not only scared to move around, but the city of Abidjan in particular is running out of food and medicines," EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told EUobserver in an interview on Thursday (7 April).

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  • An aid worker gives assistance in Abidjan (Photo: ICRC)

"And there are reports of widespread looting, both inside and outside the city," she continued. "We are having great difficulties in reaching people, and now for humanitarian workers that is becoming close to impossible."

As a result, EU discussions on how and when to step up support for the region have been delayed for a couple of days until there is "more clarity". The commission has so far allocated €30 million in humanitarian aid to the warn-torn country, with a further €24 million coming from EU member states.

Latest reports from the UNHCR suggest over 125,000 people have fled into neighbouring Liberia, around 7,200 have sought refuge in Ghana, with an estimated 1,500 in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso.

"Inside the country, the displaced population is above one million," said Georgieva. "There is a huge fear of the explosive violence which has taken place."

The commission recently made the decision to open up an office in Abidjan, with official estimates putting the death toll at around 1,500. "Our partners tell us that this number is underestimated ... they keep discovering mass graves and that unfortunately will continue," said the Bulgarian commissioner.

Gbagbo in a bunker

Current turmoil in the Ivory Coast stems from disputed presidential elections last November, although tensions between the north and south of the cocoa-producing country date back almost a decade.

The former French colony split in two following a northern rebellion in 2002, with UN and French forces stationed there ever since. Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo has refused to recognise the UN-certified results that suggest former prime minister Alassane Ouattara won the November vote.

After months of sporadic violence and failed attempts to end the stand-off between the two men, forces loyal to Ouattara last week swept down from the north and entered Abidjan, with the fighting resulting in severe food and water shortages for the city's residents.

As of Thursday afternoon, Gbagbo continued to be holed up in the presidential palace in the country's main city of Abidjan, surrounded by roughly 200 supporters, according to French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet.

Generals loyal to Gbagbo deserted him following targeted strikes by the United Nations and French Licorne military force on Monday evening, who argued their soldiers had increasingly come under fire.

"Today, at the moment, former president Gbagbo's forces are reportedly a bit less than 1,000, including 200 at his residence," Longuet told the foreign affairs committee in the French senate on Thursday, according to French media.

In contrast, Ouattara is thought to have several thousand men, many of which have currently surrounded the presidential palace. Their "final assault" on the building on Wednesday was successfully rebuffed by diehard Gbagbo loyalists, with another attempt thought to be imminent.

Stranded diplomats

Fresh exchanges of gunfire between French soldiers and those loyal to Gbagbo took place on Wednesday evening as French helicopters rescued a Japanese ambassador from the city's diplomatic quarter.

Israeli diplomats are subsequently reported to have radioed the French for help, while the US state department said Indian, Israeli and Japanese diplomats, together with some 20 journalists had also requested assistance in leaving Abidjan.

MEPs sitting in Strasbourg on Thursday passed a resolution condemning the ongoing violence. The euro-deputies said: "No efforts should be spared to identify and bring to justice, including at international level, all those responsible for crimes against the civilian population."

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