UN advisers expressed grave fears on Thursday about ethnic violence in Ivory Coast after its disputed presidential election and the Ivory Coast’s new ambassador to the UN said that the West African nation was “on the brink of genocide.”
The two advisers reported signs “some leaders there are inciting violence between different elements of the population” during a standoff between defiant Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and presidental claimant Alassane Ouattara after elections that were supposed to heal wounds of a civil war in 2002-2003.
“Given the history of internal conflict in Cote d’Ivoire such actions are highly irresponsible,” a UN statement quoted Francis Deng and Edward Luck as saying.
Deng said allegations that the Abidjan homes of political opponents of Gbagbo had been marked to identify their ethnicity were extremely worrying.
The advisers cited unconfirmed reports “of serious human rights violations by supporters of Mr Laurent Gbagbo and by forces under his control, as well as the use of inflammatory speech to incite hatred and violence.”
World leaders have stepped up pressure on Gbagbo to quit in favor of Ouattara, who is widely recognized as having won the vote on Nov. 28 in the world’s top cocoa growing nation.
Ouattara and his advisers are holed up in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, protected by UN peacekeepers known as the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI).
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “deeply alarmed” by reports that a member of Gbagbo’s government has called for an assault on the hotel today, his office said.
“Any attack on the Golf Hotel could provoke widespread violence that could reignite civil war,” the statement said, adding UNOCI was “authorized to use all necessary means” to protect itself, Ouattara’s group and civilians at the hotel.
A delegation of three West African leaders will return to Ivory Coast next week to try to persuade Gbagbo, president since 2000, to cede power or risk facing “legitimate force.”
The dispute over the election results has provoked lethal street clashes and threatens to restart open conflict.
It has also pushed up cocoa futures to four-month highs on fears the turmoil could eventually disrupt exports.
Ivory Coast’s Eurobond hit a record low last week on concern it would not meet a nearly US$30 million bond payment due yesterday
Deng, special adviser on the prevention of genocide, and Luck, who holds the same position on the “responsibility to protect,” did not directly refer to the possibility of genocide or identify any ethnic groups that might be under threat.
However, Youssoufou Bamba, appointed as ambassador to the UN by Ouattara, voiced deep concern.
“We are on the brink of genocide,” he told reporters in New York. “Something should be done.”
Bamba said more than 170 people had been killed in street protests, adding he aimed to meet all 15 members of the UN Security Council.
The UN General Assembly last week recognized Ouattara as Ivory Coast’s legitimate president. However, the incumbent president shows no signs of giving in after the election results were overturned by the country’s top court, run by a Gbagbo ally, over allegations of fraud.