Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Forces won’t assault Gbagbo hideout

WAITING GAME:Now that his forces have surrounded Laurent Gbagbo’s bunker, president-elect Alassane Ouattara said he’ll wait for his rival to run out of supplies

AP, ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST

French troops in an armored vehicle patrol on Thursday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Photo: EPA

Ivory Coast’s democratically elected leader says his forces won’t capture the entrenched strongman who has been holed up for days in an underground bunker at the presidential residence, and instead will wait for him to run out of food and water.

In his first TV appearance since the siege of Abidjan began, Ivory Coast president-elect Alassane Ouattara said late on Thursday that his forces were setting up a security perimeter around the compound where Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo was staying with his family.

Ouattara also said his forces would work to secure the streets of Abidjan, where people have hidden inside their homes this week amid heavy arms fire. UN and French forces have been attacking Gbagbo’s weapons arsenal, which has been used against civilians during the four-month-long political standoff.

In his speech, Ouattara also sought to get the economy of the world’s largest cocoa producer functioning again, calling for banks to open on Monday and for the EU to lift sanctions so that cocoa exports can resume.

The goals are ambitious ones, though, under security conditions so dire that UN and French forces have been evacuating foreigners from Abidjan neighborhoods.

Ouattara was declared the winner of the November presidential election, but Gbagbo has refused to cede power. On Thursday, he continued to insist he’d won and stressed he would never leave the West African country he has ruled for the past 10 years.

“I reached the head of state and his wife less than an hour ago and no, he will not surrender. President Gbagbo will not cede,” his adviser Toussaint Alain said by telephone from Paris. “It’s a question of principle. President Gbagbo is not a monarch. He is not a king. He is not an emperor. He is a president elected by his people.”

Gbagbo was declared the loser both by his country’s electoral body and by international observers including the UN. After four months of diplomacy, Ouattara gave the go-ahead for a military intervention led by fighters from a former rebel group. UN and French forces joined the effort this week.

Ouattara’s forces stormed the gates of Gbagbo’s home on Wednesday, but the group has stopped short of killing the entrenched leader, a move that could stoke the rage of his supporters. About 46 percent of Ivorians voted for Gbagbo.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet estimates that Gbagbo has about 1,000 troops, compared with the 2,000-strong force that has been fighting to install Ouattara.

“This will be over very soon,” Ouattara’s envoy to the UN Youssoufou Bamba said in New York.

However, such predictions over the past week have proved wrong.

He said when Gbagbo is taken, “he will be alive and well. He wants to be a martyr. We won’t allow [his death] to happen.”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said in New York that she was “extremely concerned” about the situation in Abidjan, which has led hundreds of thousands of residents to flee their homes in the commercial capital.

“People who have remained are trapped in their homes by the fighting that has raged on around them for over a week,” she said in a statement.

The pro-Ouattara forces began their lightning advance just over a week ago attacking from the east, west and center of the country. At least 80 percent of the countryside was under their control by the time they entered Abidjan.

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