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Ivory Coast / Cote D’Ivoire Thread (4/4) Afternoon/Evening

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This is the second thread of the day. The earlier thread is here.

1:45 EDT: France 24 is reporting that 5 people including two French citizens were kidnapped today in the business section of Abidjan while it was under attack by Gbagbo forces.

–The #civsocial hashtag on Twitter is for “medical emergencies, health needs, medical, humanitarian emergencies. You can also findphone numbers of doctors and pharmacies in Abidjan.”

–So far, the Ouattara forces have not achieved either of their objectives of their offensive in Abidjan: the Presidential palace or the home of Laurent Gbagbo:

2:00 EDT: There are reports of a massive explosion at the Gbagbo military compound the UN helicopter fired on.

2:05 EDT: The French government has just released this press release (translated) that explains what the UN and French operations are doing:

“In recent weeks, the forces of Laurent Gbagbo have repeatedly used heavy weapons against civilians. In Resolution 1975, passed unanimously on March 30, the Security Council requested United Nations Operation in Côte D’Ivoire (UNOCI) to prevent such abuses. In accordance with its mandate to protect civilians, UNOCI has therefore to take action to neutralize the heavy weapons used against civilians and UN staff in Abidjan.  The United Nations Secretary-General has requested the support of French forces in these operations. The President of the Republic has responded positively to this request “…

— As one would expect following that statement, French helicopters are now also firing on Gbagbo’s military camps, per AFP.

–Deep thought: what we don’t know is if this will harden the resolve of Gbagbo’s Young Patriots (fight against foreign forces) or break them (they can’t overcome this). I’m skeptical, since nativism has been at the heart of Gbagbo’s approach since the beginning. The UN and France being involved should help Ouattara though, even if they’re not legally allowed to work for regime change. Any forces engaged with France or the UN are forces that can’t engage with Ouattara’s FRCI.

2:15 EDT: More from the French Government:

According to a statement from the Elysee, “The United Nations Secretary-General has requested the support of French forces in these operations. The President of the Republic has responded positively to this request and allowed French troops, acting under the mandate given to them given by the Security Council, to participate in operations conducted by UNOCI for the protection of civilians. “

and:

“France calls for immediate cessation of all violence against civilians. The perpetrators will be brought to justice.”

2:20 EDT: This is where the French are gathering:

The consolidation of the French was made “on a voluntary basis,” three points of Abidjan, said Monday the French Foreign Ministry, without giving figures on the number of people involved.

“The consolidation process began on a voluntary basis. Two new assembly points have been established, one at the hotel Wafou south bridge and one at the Embassy of France in North,” told a press briefing the spokesperson of the department, Bernard Valero.

The third point is the combination of French military camp of Port-Bouet, where more than 1,650 foreign nationals, including about half of French nationality, had sought refuge Sunday morning.

2:25 EDT: Pat Robertson joins James Inhofe, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Glenn Beck, and socialists from the International Committee of the Fourth International in supporting Laurent Gbagbo. And who said Communists and evangelicals could never work together?

.2:35 EDT: One report says UN forces fired on Gbagbo’s residences, which would be a drastic change. Assume that’s not the case until I confirm it; but if true everything would be changed.

Update: France 24 confirms that report. This is a stunning development – the line up until now had been that the UN had no jurisdiction to go after Gbagbo, only to protect civilians. This could change everything.

2:40 EDT: In the least surprising reaction in the history of humanity, Gbagbo’s spokesman in Paris called the strikes on the residence and palace “illegal” and “an assassination attempt.” That’s not too much of a stretch either. But since Gbagbo’s personally been arming thugs to attack civilians (not to mention using human shields, even if voluntary ones), that did make these strikes within a reasonable interpretation of the UN mandate to protect civilians.

2:50 EDT: This is a good map of Abidjan. It’s in French, but you can use Google translate for anything not clear.

2:55 EDT: Gbagbo’s spokesman in Paris Alain Toussaint blamed the US too:

“I condemn these illegal acts. They are acts of war. The purpose of this action is the assassination of President Gbagbo. (…) The international coalition led by France and the United States, under the aegis of the United Nations, plunges the country into chaos. “He accuses the former French colonial power to have “equipped, informed, and armed rebellion of Alassane Ouattara”

Any word on US involvement here?

3:00 EDT: This is the current state in Abidjan:

In Abidjan, we are holding our breath as the four-month crisis appears to enter its final days and hours. The capital city in all but name is left disfigured by war. Bodies burnt to ashes wait to be removed by absent funeral services; corpses in an advanced state of decomposition have a strong smell that even keeps stray dogs away.

That is the scene in the main streets in the Cocody district around the RTI, the premises of the state-run TV station, and several other places including the markets in Riviera 2 and the neighbourhood of the presidential palace in Plateau.

Facing starvation, we can no longer stay at home, so we have to face this macabre scene on our way to the small sub-district markets that are still open.

That’s one reason a quick end to the standoff is better than a long battle.

3:05 EDT: Report of the first UN helicopter strikes:

United Nations helicopters fired four missiles at a pro-Gbagbo military camp in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan on Monday, witnesses said.

“We saw two UNOCI (U.N. mission in Ivory Coast) MI-24 helicopters fire missiles on the Akouedo military camp. There was a massive explosion and we can still see the smoke,” one of the witnesses said.

The camp is home to three battalions of the Ivorian army.

3:10 EDT: Reports now that Ouattara’s side is confident that Abidjan will fall within hours. He’s said this before, though.

Another report of the UN helicopter firing on Gbagbo forces. This is somewhat expected; what’s shocked me are the reports of UN helicopters firing on Gbagbo’s residences – which I haven’t seen expanded upon yet beyond France 24 reporting that it happened.

3:15 EDT: A report of who exactly was kidnapped. The translation is somewhat rough:

Yves Lambelin

Yves Lambelin

Reportedly, among the two French kidnapped with two or three other people by pro-Gbagbo SDS in Abidjan included Novotel Yves Lambelin, chairman of the board of directors of Sifca (whose president is Jean-Louis Billon ). The MI-24 of UNOCI who opened fire against the gendarmerie camp Agban reacted visibly to recurrent attacks of Gbagbo camp against their base Sebroko.

This is Lambelin pictured here, picture from here. SIFCA is an agribusiness group.

3:30 EDT: Overcoming technical difficulties on my end. Here’s a longer report on the attacks on Gbagbo’s residences:

According to witnesses, at least four missiles were fired from UN helicopters in Abidjan, the economic capital.

Hamadou Toure, the UN’s chief spokesman in Ivory Coast, told The Daily Telegraph the UN had struck two military camps controlled by Mr Gbagbo along with the presidential palace and his residence.

He declined to say what weapons were being used, but stressed that care was being taken to ensure civilians were not being harmed. “We are engaged in neutralising the heavy weapons that Mr Gbagbo’s special forces have been using for the last few months against civilians and our forces,” he said.

“Despite all our warnings and alerts, they kept using these heavy weapons against us. What we are doing is in line with our mandate and in line with resolution 1975 adopted last week. Our mandate is protect innocent lives and that is what we are doing.”

The strikes were carried out by helicopters from the French force Licorne.

The UN representative also said that 11 of its workers had been shot in the past week, and that its remaining forces were in fact under siege..

3:35 EDT: The Financial Times reports that ECOWAS, regional countries, are now thinking of getting involved in military action in Cote D’Ivoire as well. This at least gives better legitimacy to the French action, similar to the Arab League endorsement in Libya.

3:40 EDT: One of the leaders of a coup who tried to overthrow Gbagbo a decade ago, Ibrahim Coulibaly, is now claiming to be a leader othe Invisible Commandos, a separate army supporting Ouattara. He claims to have had no contact with Ouattara himself. If nothing else, times like this bring all the shady characters out of the woodwork.

3:50 EDT: Video is starting to emerge of the UN/French strikes in Abidjan.

4:10 EDT: There are rumors that Gbagbo’s family is in Ghana.

4:15 EDT: The French army chief of staff, Thierry Burkhard, said the helicopters fired up heavy weapons and armored detachments that had been used against civilian populations.

4:25 EDT: Video of the strikes today.

4:30 EDT: Ban Ki-Moon says that the strikes were lunched to protect civilians and not to attack Gbagbo. He’s drawing a very thin line here.

4:45 EDT: Full statement of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

I am very concerned about developments in Côte d’Ivoire.

The security situation has deteriorated dramatically over the past days with fighting having escalated between forces loyal to President Ouattara and those forces remaining loyal to Mr. Gbagbo. This is a direct consequence of Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal to relinquish power and allow a peaceful transition to President Ouattara.

The country has been plunged into violence with a heavy toll on the civilian population.

In the past few days, forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo have intensified and escalated their use of heavy weapons such as mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns against the civilian population in Abidjan.

These forces have also targeted the Headquarters of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) at Sebroko Hotel with heavy-calibre sniper fire as well as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Four peacekeepers have been wounded in these attacks. Furthermore, forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo have attacked UNOCI patrols dispatched to protect civilians and convoys transporting wounded in Abidjan, resulting in several more wounded peacekeepers.

Consequently, pursuant to paragraph 6 of Security Council resolution 1975 (2011) of 30 March 2011, I have instructed the Mission to take the necessary measures to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population, with the support of the French forces pursuant to paragraph 17 of Security Council resolution 1962 (2010).

In this regard, around 5pm local time today, UNOCI undertook a military operation to prevent the use of heavy weapons which threaten the civilian population of Abidjan.

I have informed the Security Council. The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations will brief the Security Council soon.

Let me emphasize that UNOCI is not a party to the conflict. In line with its Security Council mandate, the Mission has taken this action in self defence and to protect civilians. .

I again remind all those who commit serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws that they will be held accountable.

4:55 EDT: Save the Children is launching a major initiative to help victims of the violence in Cote D’Ivoire.

As the humanitarian crisis grows, Save the Children’s $40 million appeal will support its response in Ivory Coast and Liberia to meet the needs of 650,000 people affected by the crisis. The latest figures suggest around 130,000 Ivoirians have fled to Liberia. Some 60 percent of the refugees are thought to be children.

“Children are being exposed to this violence; they have been hearing gunshots for days, explosions as well,” said a Save the Children worker in Abidjan. “It’s an extremely stressful and frightening situation for them.”

The violence is preventing families across the city from buying food. “Families need food, the markets are closed, peoples’ household stocks are being used up, and nobody is leaving their houses,” said the Save the Children employee.

As tensions mount, Save the Children is concerned about children potentially being targeted because of their parents’ perceived political views or their families’ ethnicity. As reports of intercommunal violence in the town of Duékoué emerge, we are increasingly concerned about children suffering as a result of these clashes.

5:00 EDT: Doctors without Borders issued a statement today about the conditions they are working under:

How do MSF teams manage to work in Abidjan?

We have been stuck in the offices and at the hospital for the last three days. We can hear gun shots. There are blockades on the streets, and violence continues. The situation is extremely tense and we cannot get out. No cars can move. This morning five wounded arrived very near our offices; we have been able to treat four, but the fifth one died.

[. . .]

What is the situation for displaced people in Abidjan?

In Abobo and Anyama, the northern neighborhoods of Abidjan, there are 11 sites for displaced people where between 10,000 and 12,000 have sought refuge from other parts of the city. People in those sites receive practically no aid at all. Individuals have given them bags of rice. MSF donated bandage kits to private health centers and clinics in the area. We were also getting ready to provide consultation, but it is impossible at the moment. The problem in Abidjan is that we cannot move around, reach our drug stocks, or bring our orders into town.

MSF is also working in Guiglo in the West of the country. What is the situation there?

An MSF team is based in Guiglo where it provides primary health care. It also refers patients who need surgery to the town of Bangolo, where MSF is also working. Guiglo hospital was looted but considering the circumstances, we have had to treat seven patients there anyway. The situation is now calmer in Guiglo, but it is not the case in other western regions.

Truly horrific working conditions.

5:05 EDT: The Ouattara forces said a final assault on Gbagbo’s Presidential palace was imminent, and a UN/French helicopter may have fired again on targets near to it.

5:15 EDT: More information is coming out regarding the kidnapping from earlier. Two French, A Beninese citizen and a Malaysian were kidnapped, including Yves Lambelin.

5:20 EDT: Beth Dickinson reports that the price of rice has doubled with the 80,000 refugees from Cote D’Ivoire in the past 5 weeks.

–Additionally, there’s a good piece up on Foreign Policy about the democratic deficit of international bodies.

5:25 EDT: The Security Council is going to meet behind closed doors to review the strikes in Cote D’Ivoire.

–1,900 foreigners are under French protection in the country; 447 have already left.

5:35 EDT: Loud explosions were heard in the Agban camp.

5:50 EDT: Jean-Marie Le Pen is back! And he calls the French intervention in Cote D’Ivoire irresponsible:

[F]ormer president of the National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen has described Monday as “irresponsible” decision to “make intervene militarily in the French army the Ivorian civil war ” which puts him as “at risk” French nationals in the country. “Sarkozy’s decision to intervene militarily in the French army in the Ivorian civil war is an irresponsible act that threatens the French community in this country, “the founder of the party extreme right in a statement. “Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, will therefore not serve as a lesson to Will in the war who forget they left France to become a dwarf military, “he adds.

Once again, if Le Pen is against something, it’s a good rule of thumb to look at it favorably.

–The UN evacuated many staff members to Bouake in the north of the country.

6:15 EDT: Jim Inhofe takes his proselytizing on Cote D’Ivoire to the Senate Floor.

6:20 EDT: Only veterans of the Bush Administration could look at the immediate tragedy in Cote D’Ivoire and not want an immediate ceasing to the violence, but instead a permanent solution:

But as fighting continues — with reports of around 1,000 found dead over the weekend– critics say the White House is neglecting the conflict and instead has focused on the Middle East.

“Rather than merely search yet again for short-term solutions in the violent aftermath of an election, it would be more sensible to look for ways to prevent future crises rooted in Africa’s dysfunctional political systems,” Jendayi Frazer, a former Bush administration Under Secretary of State for African Affairs, wrote in the International Herald Tribune.

The first thing that needs to happen is that the fighting needs to stop. Once that happens, you can negotiate some sort of long term scenario. Guess what? America can’t solve all of Cote D’Ivoire’s problems by sunset tomorrow. It’s just not possible.
Given that the entire Fox article criticizes Obama for not intervening, I look forward to their article tomorrow once they found out that France did intervene and somehow criticize Obama for that. The entire article was devoid of substance regarding Cote D’Ivoire.
–I’ve outlasted one French liveblog today (in fairness I started later as well).
French video of what appears to be Gbagbo’s spokesman in France. Proceed only if you understand French.
–France24 is reporting that Ouattara forces have entered Gbagbo’s residence, but it has not been confirmed yet. This reportedly is the video.

6:45 EDT: A spokesman for Ouattara’s government says they have taken up residence in one of Gbagbo’s residences (either the palace or the personal residence), but have not said which one; also, nothing is confirmed.

–When the palace was struck it is not clear if Young Patriots were injured.

7:00 EDT: Reuters reports that it was Gbagbo’s official residence, not the Presidential Palace.

–Adam Nossiter’s piece on Cote D’Ivoire in the New York Times.

7:15 EDT: Still no word on where Laurent Gbagbo himself is.

–Ban Ki-Moon is reiterating that the United Nations is not a party to the conflict, that they were only firing upon weapons and forces used to hurt civilians (and it just coincidentally happened during a major offensive by Ouattara.

8:00 EDT: United Nations investigators found a mass grave in Duekoue with 200 bodies in it. The situation appears complex:

Duekoue, which lies in the cocoa-growing belt of western Ivory Coast, was captured by Ouattara’s forces on March 29. The West African country is the world’s leading cocoa producer.  Amos said she could not say who was responsible for the killings. People she had spoken to had variously blamed them on Ouattara’s forces, fleeing pro-Gbagbo forces and local militia, as well as conflict between natives and non-natives.  A Ouattara representative who met with her said the presidential claimant was keen that there should be an independent investigation, she said.

[. . .]

Amos described a humanitarian crisis in Duekoue, with over 40,000 people who had fled from neighboring villages taking shelter at a Roman Catholic mission, and a Protestant church accommodating over 1,000 more.  “You can imagine the conditions are terrible,” she said. “But people are feeling a degree of security because they have managed to get away from the violence.”  “I could see for myself today the fear, the horror,” she said, adding that food and water were in short supply.  Amos said there had been a lot of looting in Duekoue and some buildings had been torched, but the town, which in normal times has a population of 120,000, had not been flattened. There appeared to be no fighting there at present, she added.

There should be an independent investigation and no one should rush to judgment; on the other hand, no side seems likely to have clean hands here.

8:05 EDT: I was going to get into this deeper, but the main problem with Glenn Beck’s “analysis” here is the same as with most of the right: they look at surface facts and conscientiously refuse to see if they are truly representative. In this case, that Gbagbo is Christian and Ouattara is Muslim is utterly meaningless: religion isn’t key to either side internally. Indeed it’s only effect has been Gbagbo desperately searching for external support. In that, you could say that Beck and Pat Robertson and James Inhofe are really letting themselves be used by a tyrant for his own purposes.

8:50 EDT: It’s the middle of the night in Cote D’Ivoire but France24 (in French) is still relaying stories from people who hear bombing/shelling every 5 to 20 minutes, so there’s still fighting going on somewhere.

9:15 EDT: A point worth reiterating from this Doctors Without Borders story: because it’s impossible to get around in Abidjan, we have absolutely no idea how many people are hurt, injured, or dead. This is terrifying, mostly because of the silence.

–Along the same lines, France24’s liveblog apologized for not being able to confirm anything. And it’s true, we have claims of a lot of things, but nothing after the UN/French helicopter attacks has been confirmed, and those were hours ago.

9:30 EDT: Reuters has posted two of their photos of airstrikes here and here. I’m glad they did, but all you can see is a fire burning at night.

9:40 EDT: This is a good, concise summary of the day’s dramatic events.

10:15 EDT: This is what Gbagbo has left and is still fighting for:

Explosions and gunfire rang out from the direction of the Presidential Palace, the state broadcaster RTI, and one of two bridges connecting the lagoon-side city to the airport — among the last strategic footholds held by the incumbent leader who has refused to step down since a November election.

Attack helicopters commanded by the United Nations mission in the West African country fired missiles at Gbagbo’s military bases, and near his official residence, causing huge explosions that shook nearby homes and smashed windows, witnesses said.

A spokesman for Ouattara’s government later said pro-Ouattara forces seized Gbagbo’s residence, situated in the leafy Cocody neighbourhood, but the information could not independently confirmed and a pro-Gbagbo military source who asked not to be named denied it.

I doubt there will be confirmation until the morning, still a few hours away.

–The latest report in to France24 (not confirmed by any stretch of the imagination) had Gbago holding off the French and UN forces.

11:20 EDT: Amazingly, Cote D’Ivoire did not come up in today’s State Department briefing, something it has in common with Andrew Sullivan’s debut at the Daily Beast.

11:30 EDT: A Gambonese politician concluded that the French operations in Cote D’Ivoire were illegal (English link). I don’t agree but I’ll take a closer look tomorrow about whether the actions exceed the Security Council Resolutions relevant.

12:15 EDT: Al Jazeera has video of people literally being burnt alive. Truly harrowing.

That wraps up today’s live coverage. I’m gonna sleep some and try to do better tomorrow.

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Ivory Coast / Cote D’Ivoire Thread (4/4) Morning/Early Afternoon

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10:00 EDT: Live blog now up. If you missed it, I had two posts on Cote D’Ivoire already today. The first on the continuing shame of James Inhofe supporting Laurent Gbagbo, and the second on why both sides are attacking the UN and why intervention will not work.

This is going to fill up quickly – I have about 25 open tabs each with an important story. So keep coming back.

Picture to the right from here, used under a Creative Commons License from the Department for International Development.

10:05 EDT: I mentioned this in the second post from above, the Ouattara’s ambassador to France attacked the UN for not stopping the massacre in Duekoue. He also denied responsibility of any of Ouattara’s forces. The former was impossible to do, the latter is an outright lie. Everytime an Ouattara spokesman says soemthing encouraging like there will be no impunity for anyone, it’s immediately covered up by something like this.

10:15 EDT: Oxfam has new podcasts up from the field in Cote D’Ivoire. Give them both a listen.

10:20 EDT: Al Jazeera is reporting that Gbagbo has been arming men and getting them ready for this fight for years. Others he’s using as human shields. Meanwhile, Ouattara’s force, the FRCI has 9,000 men ready to fight in Abidjan.

–Penelope Chester expands on her comparison of Cote D’Ivoire to Liberia from yesterday:

Laurent Gbagbo’s desperate hold on power is profoundly reminiscent of Charles Taylor’s in Liberia. Like Taylor, Gbagbo has his most loyal men controlling key areas, while he continues to sit in the presidential palace. Monrovia’s unique geography played into the hands of advancing rebel forces, who were able to isolate Taylor in the center of Monrovia by taking over bridges leading into the city. In Abidjan, the layout is different, but, similarly to Monrovia, there are islands and bridges, which are strategically important in urban warfare – whoever gains control of access routes has the advantage.  The airport, which is currently controlled by UN and French forces, is on an island. The presidential palace sits on a peninsula.

I don’t know how long this siege will last. Gbagbo will not step down, and will not leave easily. The best case scenario is that he’s currently negotiating exile conditions in a third country and will get airlifted with his family. Worst case scenario is that the presidential palace where he sits is stormed by rebels and he is killed. At this stage, I’d say both of these possibilities are equally as realistic.

It’s our responsibility to bear witness to what is happening in Cote d’Ivoire now. Unspeakable crimes have already been committed by both sides of the conflict, and will continue to happen. Media and public attention are not silver bullets, but along with the real threat of prosecution, may help attenuate the levels of violence. At least, that is my hope.

If Gbagbo was willing to leave in exile, I think he would have done so by now. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, I’m just being overly pessimistic.

10:40 EDT: Elizabeth Dickinson at Foreign Policy sees the same worst case scenario that I do, and notes that it won’t be over even when Gbagbo leaves:

How did we end up here? After months of warnings that this country was on the brink of civil war, it has now been allowed to fall from the precipace. And it looks as if the world is fresh out of ideas about what to do from here. Economic sanctions failed to squeeze Gbagbo into retirement; so did enticements and final offers for amnesty. Everyone — Washington, Brussels, Paris, the U.N. — is calling for the protection of civilians. Clearly that’s not enough. Paul Collier had an interesting idea a while back to force defections within the army around Gbagbo, but that seems a bit late now.

So here’s what’s probably going to happen: Ouattara’s forces, which are arguably the legitimate army in this country, will likely be allowed to fight on until Gbagbo is eventually ousted. Everyone will yell and scream that civilians should be protected in the meantime. But everyone knows that this crisis doesn’t end until Gbagbo goes, and again, we’re fresh out of other options.

I’m not convinced that it even ends then — after Gbagbo is forced out one way or another. Remember, this election was contested on a relatively close vote, and Gbagbo does retain support from much of the population. As much as Ouattara has talked about being the president for all Ivorians, the story on the ground is looking more complicated to piece together. This is about more than two men’s egos at this point. It’s about a country, back in civil war. And if we’d like to prevent a protracted armed conflict, maybe it’s time to start plotting out options if it comes to that.

This is going to get a lot worse.

10:45 EDT: Gbagbo’s government is attempting to block internet access to critical websites:

The Côte d’Ivoire Telecommunications Agency (ATCI) announced in a directive dated 24 March that it intends to block access to several independent and anti-Gbagbo websites. Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of the directive and is distributing it.

“Internet operators and service providers are prohibiting access from within Côte d’Ivoire to the following websites: http://www.abidjan.net, http://www.lavoixdugolf.net, http://www.connectionivoirienne.net, http://www.primaturecotedivoire.net, http://www.koaci.com, http://www.lebanco.net and http://www.informateur.net,” says the directive signed by ATCI director-general Sylvanus Kla.

“This list is not exhaustive,” the directive continues. “This decision is adopted in the strict framework of National Defence and Public Security and takes effect from the date it is signed [24 March].”

“The websites targeted by this act of censorship continue to be accessible although six days have elapsed since the ATCI directive,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Does this entity really intend to censor them or is it a warning or act of intimidation towards those who operate them?

Not surprising that they’d try this. It’s a little surprising that they haven’t actually gone through with it. Does Gbagbo not control that any more?

10:50 EDT: No idea what the source for this or if the person is reliable, but Twitter user @JeannetteMallet writes: “URGENT: According to a witness,#Gbagbo plans to bomb the Cathedral of St. Paul in Plateau & implicated the FRCI.” (FRCI being, again, Ouattara’s force).

She says this is what she has been told directly. Wit honly one source, and reported on Twitter, I would not put a lot of stock into it.

11:00 EDT: Russian oil company LUKoil have suspended operations in Cote D’Ivoire, per a Russian news agency (second hand twitter account link). It’s unclear if this will change Russia’s position on Cote D’Ivoire, but it’s already too late for the UN to do much of anything, as noted above). More on LUKoil here and here.

11:05 EDT: France is organizing French citizens in Abidjan in preparation of an evacuation that has not yet happened.

11:15 EDT: Information out of Abidjan is scarce, but there are some reports massive food inflation is starting to occur as supplies run low.

–In case you wanted a more recent link for the socialists supporting Gbagbo’s thugs, see here. I’m comfortable being on the other side of them and Le Pen, thank you very much.

11:25 EDT: Breaking News; Ouattara’s FRCI has started its offensive in Abidjan just recently. More as it happens. As they say, Developing…

–Enduring America has some background on the conflict, making one important point: while religion is important to some outside observers (think: Le Pen and James Inhofe) it’s not as important to those internally, and both the north and south are mixed between Christian and Muslim. The nativism of Gbagbo is more ethnic and less religious.

–Andrew Harding blogs about his experience reporting in Duekoue:

A group of Ivorian soldiers are sitting in the shade at nearby roadblock. We must have driven through 30 just like it to reach the town. The men are supporters of the man recognised as the winner of last year’e elections, Alassane Ouattara. They, and militias linked to them, swept through the region early last week, seizing huge chunks of territory from forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power. This was one of the few places – leaving aside the main city, Abidjan – where they seem to have encountered serious resistance.

“Us? We didn’t kill any of them,” says a young soldier insistently. “I was injured myself. It was the militia groups – they were fighting each other.” The UN soldier comes over and wags a finger: “You mustn’t kill them,” he says. “If you have prisoners, bring them to the authorities. No more killing.” They nod. But the UN man tells me that they’ve rescued several prisoners from cars in recent days. They suspect they were being driven out of town to be killed discreetly.

We run into Anne-Marie Altherr, deputy country director for the International Commitee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who is organising the collection of bodies. “It’s really difficult,” she says. “There’s been a lot of dead people. It’s definitely tough work – especially for the volunteers because they’re from here so it’s their community.”

But significantly, she says she won’t discuss numbers. The death toll has become a hotly disputed, highly sensitive issue. Last week, the ICRC said 800 were killed. Then another aid agency, Caritas suggested 1,000. But the UN has quietly disputed, and scaled down, those figures, and so – furiously – have officials from Mr Ouattara’s government.

Horrible.

11:30 EDT: In case you were wondering, the UN issued a new call to protect civilians in Abidjan that will likely be ignored.

–Justin Elliot flags a piece on the connections between Gbagbo and James Inhofe, this time Inhofe trying to get Gbagbo a job in America:

Inhofe sometimes has framed his interest in Africa in religious terms, once calling it “a Jesus thing,” and he told The Oklahoman two years ago that he first went to the continent at the urging of Doug Coe, the longtime organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

Gbagbo and his wife are evangelical Christians. Ouattara is Muslim.

Inhofe knows Gbagbo and his wife, which is why Yamamoto reached out to him. Inhofe said Yamamoto told him that there would be a teaching position for Gbagbo at Boston University and a job for his wife.

Boston University hosts the African Presidential Archive and Research Center, which, according to its website, “provides residential opportunities for democratically elected former African heads of state.” The center is headed by Charles Stith, the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.

Responding to an inquiry from The Oklahoman, Stith said Friday that the residency program at the center is for African heads of state and government that leave office as a result of the democratic process.

“Had Gbagbo left office after the election (even under protest regarding the process and outcome) he could have been considered a prospective candidate for our program,” Stith said. “Given that he is likely to be carried out of office on a rail or spit, the issue of a residency opportunity at Boston University or anywhere is moot, at this point.”

I was not aware that evangelical Christians are permitted to use human shields to protect themselves when they lose elections.

11:40 EDT: France now has 1,650 military personnel in Cote D’Ivoire, and they are actively protecting about 1,800 foreign nationals at the military camp of Port-Bouet. About half of the foreign nationals are French.

11:45 EDT: When I hear someone like Glenn Beck accusing Ouattara of murdering babies, the first thing I think of are the internal dynamics of the FRCI, which are not easy for outsiders (even well informed ones) to understand. This is Reuters giving it a go:

But sources in and around the Ouattara camp say the hesitation is also at least in part to do with divisions among top military brass jostling for influence in a post-Gbagbo government.  Fighters following Ibrahim “IB” Coulibaly — a key figure in the so-called “invisible commandos” whose guerrilla tactics have foxed Gbagbo forces across Abidjan in recent weeks — say their allegiance is to IB, not Ouattara.  “IB wants to be president. He is an idiot,” Wattao told Reuters dismissively at the weekend.

An equally plausible explanation is that he and other commanders are simply biding their time for the right moment militarily — but the question is how long they can wait.  A source inside Ouattara’s camp denied that there were divisions within the ranks, adding that the final assault was taking a little longer than expected because they wanted to secure gains first.

At their camp, some of Wattao’s men noted that Sunday’s ration of bread came without the usual tin of sardines.  But the overall mood at the camp remained calm, almost jokey.  To much laughter, one man dressed in police uniform handed out pink parking tickets to drivers of pick-up trucks loaded with machine-guns that were parked in a row in the middle of the empty motorway.

This is one reason I’ve been saying that investigations and prosecutions are more important than laying blame at the Presidential level – because we don’t know what happened, and we don’t know the dynamics of power. This is where the international community can help (if and) when things calm down – by ensuring there are such investigations and prosecutions.

11:50 EDT: South Africa joined in the condemnation of violence in Cote D’Ivoire. They also explained how Gbagbo’s army chief Phillippe Mangou left the South African embassy yesterday to rejoin Gbagbo:

Asked why Gbagbo’s army chief, General Phillippe Mangou, who had sought asylum with his family in the South African embassy in Abidjan, had left on Sunday, the minister said: “I’m not in the Ivory Coast but I know he sought refuge in our embassy and there are conditions in asking for such refuge.

She confirmed that Mangou had chosen to leave.

“We don’t know why as conditions were as they would be internationally.”

So basically, they’re saying Mangou just left his family there in the embassy to go back out and likely martyr himself?

11:55 EDT: Oxfam is tweeting pictures of the work they are doing in the region, here supplying water to refugees.

–Along with Mangou, another Gbagbo supporter mysteriously reappeared with no explanation:

Charles Ble Goude, who also was invisible from the start of the offensive of the Republican forces in Abidjan, made his reappearance on the RTI. Like all patriotic leaders of the galaxy that had preceded it, the emblematic leader of the Young Patriots called for the mobilization of all supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, including asking them to assist the army in its search operations.

Taking good care not to cross certain red lines, Charles Ble Goude reiterated the arguments already developed by the whole entourage of Laurent Gbagbo: Côte d’Ivoire is engaged in a war against the rest of the soldiers and pro-Ouattara operating with the complicity of UNOCI and France.

12:00 EDT: Looking for an inspirational story amidst all this? How about an American with Ivory Coast connections anonymously going back to the country to basically be the tech support for Ouattara. Why anonymous? Because he has family in Abidjan who would probably die immediately if his name got out. This is a wow story:

So the American, who owns a high-tech communications company in the U.S. that does business in Africa, got the call. Would he come back to Ivory Coast to help Ouattara fight an information war he was losing?

The American insists on anonymity for fear of violence against his family, some of whom are in Abidjan, which has seen its narrow dirt alleys become a killing field.

“They’re actually trying to find out who is helping” Ouattara, says the American, 45, who left Ivory Coast 30 years ago and is a friend of the president-elect.

Before the American came on board, Ouattara had no presence on TV, while Gbagbo’s state-owned television station accused rebels of massacres and claimed the United Nations was guilty of a genocidal conspiracy with France to kill Ivorians and install a foreigner to rule the country. Ouattara’s fighters briefly got hold of the station Thursday but Gbagbo’s fighters took it back and have used it to call on young militias to fight to the death for Gbagbo.

[. . .]

With Ouattara and his government trapped by Gbagbo forces in Abidjan’s Golf Hotel since December, the American took over a restaurant in the hotel and turned it into a pro-Ouattara television station.

The American also set up an FM radio studio and created a satellite link, more difficult for Gbagbo to scramble than the terrestrial channel.

It’s a daily battle of wits, as Gbagbo’s experts try to scramble Ouattara’s signals by broadcasting on the same frequency. “I try to anticipate their next move,” he says.

Stop what you’re doing and read this. Would you do what this person did? I’d like to think I would, but who knows.

And by the way, if we’re talking about American exceptionalism, this is the peak of it for me. This is the best of what Americans can do and what America means.

And now, back to the depressing side of the news.

12:10 EDT: Ian Birrell highlights what a big problem it is that certain leaders in Africa refuse to leave power:

The events have also served to highlight one of the biggest issues facing Africa: the reluctance of Big Men such as Gbagbo to leave office. We have just seen this in Uganda, where Yoweri Museveni used state patronage to cling on to power after 25 years despite once admitting Africa’s problems were caused by “leaders who overstay”.

There are 19 elections due in Africa over the next 18 months, including a critical poll this week in Nigeria. There needs to be a far tougher line against despots who refuse to be dislodged. The African Union must show leadership while the west should stop showering them in aid and selling them weapons. Just as in the countries north of the Sahara, new generations need leaders who represent them, not repress them.

This is indeed a good point; all the benefits a democracy brings are only effective if leaders abide by the results of free and fair elections. When that does not happen, nothing at all works. We’ve seen that across the globe.

12:15 EDT: Action Against Hunger has posted 6 pictures of refugees on facebook. I’ve posted one here under a Creative Commons license.

Texas in Africa thought of a great way citizens elsewhere can help those in Cote D’Ivoire: by getting free SMS messaging if possible:

This is a fantastic idea, and one where ordinary people around the world can get involved. Many Ivoirians, especially those in Abidjan, have been afraid to leave their homes for a few days now, and most shops in the city are closed, meaning that people can’t buy top up cards for their mobile phones. Also, many Ivoirians haven’t been able to work for several days, meaning that even if they could find top up cards, they wouldn’t be able to afford them. Orange, MTN, and Moov could provide a huge public service (and get lots of positive publicity) by opening up their networks to allow free SMSing during this crisis. I would gladly donate to a fund to help cover the costs of doing so – and I bet I’m not the only one.

Here’s information on how to contact the corporate offices of Orange, MTN, and Moov. I’m using corporate offices at the highest level because it may be hard to reach the offices in Cote d’Ivoire right now. If you have any other suggestions, please note them in the comments below.

  • Orange is part of France Telecom. Contact their Corporate Social Responsibility office by filling out the form here.
  • MTN Group is based in South Africa and only provides phone numbers and physical addresses. This is why Skype exists; spend the 20 cents and call them on +27 11 912 3000 or +27 11 912 4123.
  • Moov is based in the UAE and its operations are under the Etisalat trade name. Fill out their online feedback form here.

[. . .]

UPDATE: A couple of commenters point out that SMS services have been turned off in Cote d’Ivoire for several weeks per Gbagbo’s orders. I don’t see any reason that the phone companies could not override that order, but perhaps I’m wrong. At any rate, asking for free airtime and for the companies to do all they can to get the SMS networks running is also worth our while.

Any reason this can’t happen?

12:20 EDT: A list of some doctors available in Cote D’Ivoire.

12:25 EDT: The United Nations threatens helicopter attacks? Umm, OK.

Choi Young-jin, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Ivory Coast, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme: “We are fast approaching a tipping point.  “We are planning action, we can no longer condone their [Mr Gbagbo’s forces] reckless and mindless attack on civilians and the United Nations blue helmets with heavy weapons.”  “We are now in a way under siege, so we cannot go out freely, [they’re] targeting us with snipers, it’s a deliberate shoot at United Nations.

“For the last few days we have 11 [peacekeepers] wounded by their gunshots. They are targeting the headquarters, they cut off the water… and we are now in the bunker.”  The special representative said the 9,000 troops who are part of the UN mission in Ivory Coast (Unoci) did not have a mandate to dislodge Mr Gbagbo, but they did have the powers to respond to heavy weapons attacks against the UN or civilians.  “We will be using our air assets,” he said. “We will be taking action soon,” he added.

The UN in Ivory Coast has a Ukrainian aviation unit with three Mi-24 attack helicopters, as well as lightly armed Mi-8 and Mi-17 utility helicopters.  It says 20 of its peacekeepers have been injured in total since the recent crisis began in the West African country.

I’m sure they can do some good this way, but this is just going to make the UN even more of a target and entrench Gbagbo even more, since his whole rationale is that the world is trying to dislodge him, the good Ivorian. It’s nonense, of course. But in the close urban combat of Abidjan, what can helicopters really do if they can’t actively support Ouattara’s forces because they have no mandate to get rid of Gbagbo? At the most, they could protect the road to the airport to get civilians out. Beyond that I’m highly skeptical of this UN force being effective in the least.

12:30 EDT: Proving that the bond market, does, in fact, control everything, Cote D’Ivoire’s bond fell as traders became less optimistic of a quick resolution in the country:

In Ivory Coast, the $2.3 billion 2032 bond suffered a setback as fighting continued between rival presidential claimants. The bond XS0496488395=R which rose last week, on hopes incumbent Laurent Gbagbo would soon be forced out, fell 1.7 points to 47.6 and the yield rose 0.4 percent.

“(Abidjan) has not fallen as quickly as some people anticipated, so there could be a certain amount of profit-taking,” said Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix brokerage.

12:35 EDT: More details are emerging on the Ouattara offensive in Abidjan:

A convoy of several dozen vehicles containing heavily armed pro-Ouattara troops and outfitted with mounted machineguns entered Ivory Coast’s main city at midday, the first elements of a large force that had massed on the northern outskirts for what they called a “final assault”, according to a Reuters eyewitness.

Heavy machinegun fire and a few explosions could be heard minutes after they entered the city limits.

The commanding officer of the forces, Issiaka “Wattao” Ouattara, told Reuters he had 4,000 men with him plus another 5,000 already in the city. Asked how long he would need to take Abidjan, Wattao said: “We know when it starts, but could take 48 hours to properly clean (the city).”

[. . .]

Speaking on Sunday on the pro-Ouattara TCI television channel, Ouattara’s prime minister Guillaume Soro said their strategy had been to encircle the city, harass Gbagbo’s troops and gather intelligence on their arsenal.

12:45 EDT: In case you were wondering, here is the report of witnesses saying Ouattara’s forces massacred people in Duekoue.

–Al Jazeera launched a Cote D’Ivoire “spotlight” page, which basically looks a lot shinier than this.

1:00 EDT: Reports are emerging that the UN headquarters in Abidjan are under siege. They are not confirmed, yet, and I’m not really sure how they could be unless the UN itself says so. (So far, it’s just from a “UN man”). For what it’s worth, I believe it, though we don’t know which side is doing the sieging. Gbagbo’s side (either the Republican Guard or Young Patriots) would be my guess but there’s no way to know for sure.

1:10 EDT: John Irish on France’s position in Cote D’Ivoire:

Unlike in Libya, Paris has extensive political and economic interests in Ivory Coast and 12,000 citizens, including 8,000 dual nationals, on the ground there.

The precedent guiding Sarkozy is his anxiousness to avoid scenes in 2004, when militiamen hunted down French people in Ivory Coast, prompting the French army to evacuate them from rooftops, in retaliation for France’s support of the north in a 2002-03 civil war that split the country in two

[. . .]

“France must stay within its U.N. mandate to protect civilians which is what it’s doing by increasing troops,” said Bouquet said.

“This is already a lot because it means they will have to move around town with armoured vehicles and nobody doubts that the Gbgabo camp will accuse France of interfering.”

France (and the UN for that matter) has basically two options here: protect it’s citizens and hold the airport, or get foreign nationals out and let happen whatever may happen. For all I know they’re complicit in getting it to this point. But now it doesn’t matter how many meetings Sarkozy has, unless he can convince Gbagbo to leave this is not going to end well.

1:30 EDT: A UN helicopter did, in fact, fire on a Gbagbo military camp in Abidjan. A sulfur smell is reported nearby.

1:40 EDT: Humanitarian assistance is rushing to refugees and the displaced:

Humanitarian agencies are rushing to help thousands of displaced people in Ivory Coast who are in urgent need of assistance. Tens of thousands, for example, have crowded around a Catholic mission in the western town of Duekoue. Too many for what little food and water are available.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said, “Currently, IOM has deployed in Duekoue, alongside Caritas, colleagues from UNHCR and the World Food Program, and what we’re doing at the moment is carrying out the very first registration of the displaced. Obviously, the needs are enormous. Access to potable water remains very difficult and also to latrines. Obviously, action will be taken to and prevent the spread of diarrheal diseases.”

There’s also a short audio clip.

That wraps up this thread. I’m moving the live blog to a clean thread here.

James Inhofe Exploits Massacre, Doubles Down on Gbagbo Support

with 2 comments

Joining a position that is only supported by Jean-Marie Le Pen and a handful of extreme socialists, James Inhofe is politically exploiting a massacre and doubling down in support of Gbagbo today. Via Gateway Pundit (who, it must be said, spends exactly no time at all verifying any of these claims):

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFR), today pointed to news reports of mass killings by Ouattara forces as more evidence that the United States must change its position on Cote d’Ivoire.

“It is now clear, based on U.N. reports coming from Cote d’Ivoire, that mass killings have occurred at the hands of Alassane Ouattara,” Inhofe said. “This calls into question his legitimacy to lead that country. Ouattara is on a rampage, killing innocent civilians, and he must be stopped before this becomes another Rawanda.

“The United States must call for an immediate ceasefire to prevent Ouattara and his rebel army from committing a mass slaughter of the Ivorians, especially the many youth with sticks and baseball bats, who are protecting Gbagbo at the presidential palace.

“Based on the evidence I have seen, and having spoken with various dignitaries in Africa, I brought the issue of fraudulent elections in Cote d’Ivoire to the attention of Secretary of State Clinton on a couple of occasions spanning the past few months. I have called for the United States to support new elections there, but thus far, these efforts have received very little response or attention. Based on the news that Ouattara has murdered 1,000 people in Duekoue, I hope the U.S. will reconsider its position.

“Senator John Kerry’s plate is full now, but I have called this to his attention, and I know he’s sensitive to the situation. I will be asking him to convene a hearing into the flawed election as well as the atrocities being committed by Ouattara.”

Despite Jim Hoft saying that Inhofe is “following the situation closely” there is no widespread belief that the vote was fraudulent (there were irregularities in some locations, but hell that didn’t stop America in 2000 did it?) Everyone on the political spectrum (except the absolute fringe and Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters) thinks Ouattara won the election. Moreover, there have been months and months to convince anyone otherwise.

Secondly, Inhofe ignore the atrocities allegedly committed by Gbagbo in this massacre. If you followed my liveblogs this weekend on this site, you know one theory is that the massacre was a revenge killing for the massacres done in the area by pro-Gbagbo mercenaries. That absolves no one at all. But it completely destroys Inhofe’s theory that the scary Muslim Ouattara needs to go. I want a full investigation with no impunity. Doubtless everyone seems to agree that Ouattara’s force, the FRCI had a big part of this. But it may not be the whole story and even if it is is (which is certainly possible) then we should punish those responsible and only those responsible. Because…

Third, there are many, many tragedies being instigated by Abidjan now and over the past year or so. Everyone agrees Gbagbo is more responsible for casualties except the one at Duekoue. That includes the activities of this weekend, where Gagbo had kids/young adults (the Young Patriots) called out to surround his palace as human shields. Or when he armed them and sent them into Abidjan to loot and kill anyone they came across. Or when he had his thugs shoot any car en route to the French controlled airport.

This is not an easy situation. This is not a choice of America picking a side and getting it over with. This is about a long, long civil war festering over and both sides being responsible for massacres and humanitarian disasters. Ouattara won the election, that makes him the legitimate leader. Let’s make him take office in a responsible way, not try to take sides and just lpro-long the conflict because we’re scared of a Muslim.

Everything I said in this post was documented from a reliable source in my coverage over the weekend. See the links above.

As always, the best way to contact me is via twitter @existentialfish or leave a comment here. Email is spotty.

Sunday (4/3) Cote D’Ivoire / Ivory Coast Thread

with 5 comments

Circumstances have created a gap in my coverage, but let’s catch up. Photo from here, used under a Creative Commons license.

11:45 EDT: The United Nations evacuated 200 staff members from Cote D’Ivoire after 4 members were seriously injured yesterday while attempting a humanitarian mission. This leaves only UN military personnel on the ground, which are largely French.

–The Young Patriots of Gbagbo called for people to form a human shield around Gbagbo’s Presidential residence (BBC video). Gbagbo continues to call for all his supporters to essentially martyr themselves. With that kind of fervor and nationalism, there’s not much that can be done by anyone. Hopefully the sanctions cut off Gbagbo’s funds, but that’s a long game, not a quick solution.

I would describe the Young Patriots as essentially an ethnic gang that Gbagbo controls directly. I don’t even know how much money plays into it. If money is a small part, then things really are going to get even worse in the capital.

–CNN has a good background primer on the conflict if you haven’t been following it yet. I would like the part about international intervention rephrased if I had my druthers — France and the US are pushing to do marginally more, but short of close, urban, bloody conflict there’s not much to be done — but that’s quibbling. And by the way, no one has the stomach for that kind of interference in Libya either. A nofly zone (or no fly zone plus) for Cote D’Ivoire makes no sense, as French forces are in control of the airport, and the fighting in Abidjan is too close for air support to do that much.

I’d like more UN support regarding refugees, but that’s a different matter altogether (and I could say the same thing regarding about 50 places on the planet).

–France took over the Abidjan airport late yesterday to evacuate foreigners they had been protecting in a camp (although I’ve seen reports previously that the UN was in control of the airport, and UN forces are French forces. So I’ll have to clarify that). France also now has 1,500 troops in the country.

–The story in Duekoue continues to get worse. This story says that Gbagbo forces were burning people alive who were not native to the region. Then the Ouattara forces (FRCI) came along and then made matters worse with massive amounts of revenge killing:

On the outskirts of Duekoue to Niambi, the streets are deserted. The city was almost entirely burned, according to an AFP reporter who saw many charred bodies in the rubble of houses. 150 people sleep in classrooms.

“Here the militia and Liberian mercenaries in Colombo killed 20 people before the arrival of FRCI,” Gao said Kouadio Hubert capita Niambi. “They burned our houses, looted our property and even raped our women,” he says, adding: “So, when FRCI arrived, we had avenged it, they burnt their houses and they killed those that could also kill. ”

He was unable, or unwilling, to say the number of people killed in these acts of vengeance.

The spiral of violence has hit a dozen towns and villages around Duekoue, according to testimony gathered by the AFP.

Diahouin, a small town located 11 km from Duékoué and hence is from one of the commander of pro-Gbagbo militia calling itself the “Rambo”, was no exception.

Kouadio Kouanté, Diahouin resident, said: “before the arrival of FRCI, there were killings on killing. Militiamen and Liberian mercenaries (pro-Gbagbo) attacked the quarters of allogeneic They chased us and we went bush. There have been dead at least 40 “.

Horrifying.

12:15 EDT: Andrew Harding from the BBC is on the ground in Cote D’Voire and is tweeting @hardingbbc. His most recent is from Duekoue: “Bodies everywhere here. 100 more found in past two days. UN soldier cries and holds up four fingers. One for each dead child he has seen.”

12:20 EDT: Sarkozy held meetings today regarding Cote D’Ivoire, but it’s not clear what can be done. Laurent Gbagbo has made the UN and France part of the enemy as far as his supporters are concerned (translated):

Ivorian state television controlled by Gbagbo diffuse violent messages against France. “The Rwandan genocide is being prepared in Côte d’Ivoire by the men of Sarkozy. Ivorian Ivorians go out en masse and occupy the streets, “said a ticker. “The French army occupied the airport Felix Houphouet-Boigny (Abidjan), we are in danger,” said another banner. A government statement said already Saturday that Ouattara “is from a mobile because of the clan that hackers are trying to resurrect Gbagbo RTI to continue their propaganda to destroy Ivory Coast.”

Ban Ki-Moon also called for action against the perpetrators of the massacre in Duekoue.

12:25 EDT: Sec. Clinton and FM Hague made strong statements on Cote D’Ivoire:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded Sunday that Gbagbo step aside immediately.

“Gbagbo is pushing Cote d’Ivoire into lawlessness,” she said, using the French name for the country. “He must leave now so the conflict may end.”

She also called “on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague Sunday said Britain “renew(ed) our call for Gbagbo to get out, which would stop this violence,” and raised the possibility of International Criminal Court prosecutions stemming from the conflict.

It’s good that they made these statements, but I’m not sure it matters within the country. Perhaps the specter of ICC prosecution will make the FRCI more likely to listen to Ouattara. That’s the best case scenario.

12:30 EDT: A horrifying tweet from BBC Cameraman Christian Parkinson:  “We are in the west of Ivory Coast – bodies everywhere, smell intolerable. Report on tonights late BBC News.”

This Al Jazeera article is a nice summary of the recent events of the past day.

A short report in French about the foreigners that France evacuated. Nationalities were predominantly French but included others, including Lebanese. 167 foreigners were flown to Dakar, Senegal.

12:45 EDT: UNOCI is so far staying with the estimate of 330 killed in Duekoue, but that really is starting to seem unrealistic as more reports come in.

More on Gbagbo inciting violence against UN forces.

12:50 EDT: There was a lull in fighting Sunday in Abidjan, and many residents went looking for food, water, and supplies that may or may not even be there to get:

Residents of Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan braved sporadic shooting and ventured out on Sunday to pray, get water and buy food after being trapped in their homes during three days of intense fighting.  Forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and those of his rival, presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara, have battled in Abidjan neighborhoods but local people took advantage of a relative lull on Sunday.  “Many people went to church to pray to God to stop the war in the country,” said Sylvie Monnet, a resident of Yopougon, a neighbourhood north of central Abidjan.  Some residents had little choice but to venture out. “We have nothing more to eat at home. I have just a single fresh fish at home and after that, I do not know what to do. It is really difficult,” Pamela Somda, a student told Reuters TV.

12:55 EDT: The AP reports that Ouattara forces are gathering in northern Abidjan, and may number in the thousands. (French language liveblog link)

1:05 EDT: An Ouattara minister tells the BBC that only 162 were killed in Duekoue. That seems way too low.

1:15 EDT: Sarkozy’s meeting was attended by Henry Raincourt, Minister of Cooperation, Gerard Longuet, the Defense Minister, Edouard Guillaud, Chief of Defence Staff, chiefs of staff François Fillon and Alain Juppe. It has now adjourned. No announcements are expected.

1:20 EDT: The International Crisis Group called for a ceasefire from both sides. They additionally call for:

  • The UN mission (ONUCI) must deploy all its available formed police units (FPUs) within Abidjan, as well as military troops, and reinforce its presence in the west of the country, particularly in and around Duékoué, Guiglo, Blolequin, Toulepleu and Daloa. Troop contributing countries should also accelerate deployment of soldiers up to their maximum mandated capacity of 11,000 (as opposed to 9,000 on the ground now).
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union should mobilise all international partners, including the EU and the US, to bolster ONUCI’s efforts.
  • Ouattara, the Forces républicaines and its commanders, including Prime Minister Guillaume Soro and their regional sponsors, should take all measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. They should understand that international support for Ouattara’s election victory, and his legitimacy, will quickly evaporate if their military campaign becomes responsible for mass atrocity crimes.

There’s no stomach in the international community, as far as I can tell, for that sort of massive ground action. Moreover, given Gbagbo’s rank nativism, those forces would just turn into targets almost immediately.

1:30 EDT: The ambassador from Cote D’Ivoire (Ouattara) to France said that more French intervention in the country would be “normal and natural” but did not give indications of what he would request or what the French are thinking of.

2:05 EDT: 50 fighters from the Young Patriots (Gbagbo group) tried to take the Abidjan airport but the French Foreign Legion repelled the attack. Sarkozy also spoke three times on the phone with Ouattara today. (French link)

2:15 EDT: Sarkozy made an announcement that I’m having some difficulty translating so far, but it seems to be that he wants all French citizens evacuated. But I’m going to keep checking on this.

Fighting is underway in the Oscars district between the SDS and invisible commandos.

–Al Jazeera has published an article about France seizing the airport.

2:25 EDTConcise background on the difference between the UN operation (UNOCI) and the French operation (Unicorn):

In 2002, when civil war broke out in the former French colony, French troops deployed to prevent northern-based rebels marching on President Laurent Gbagbo’s government. A contingent from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) followed soon after.

After a first ceasefire between the government and rebels in 2003, France pushed for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent. The United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) deployed in 2004, taking over from ECOWAS, but France’s Operation Unicorn remained on.

Unicorn’s mandate is now principally to support UNOCI, but it can ‘if need be, ensure the security of French and foreign nationals’ in Ivory Coast, according to the French Defence Ministry.

3:15 EDT: The BBC posted 3 compelling personal stories from people in Abidjan, I’d recommend reading it. France is also voluntarily evacuating people to Togo, though it seems possible that could be a general evacuation shortly of foreign nationals.

3:30 EDT: Ouattara’s government claims that state TV could be run from a mobile van anywhere in Abidjan. This seems odd, given that 1) it would likely have to still broadcast to the station where it’s going out (bypassing the station entirely seems unrealistic) and two, Ouattara’s government makes no claim to actually be in control of the station to begin with. This communique just seems very odd.

4:30 EDT: Gbagbo’s camp rejected the accusation that mercenaries paid by him slaughtered 100 people in the west of the country.

5:45 EDT: We’ve heard about the amassing forces north of Abidjan, and Senam Behaton (@SenamBehaton on Twitter) says that the battle could last days – and if it fails, the city could be the new Beirut.

–The French have no plans to expand their forces beyond the airport, but Gbagbo’s camp nonetheless called them an occupying army without a mandate.

6:00 EDT: It truly feels like the calm before a great storm today:

Only about 20 miles separates the thousands of pro-Ouattara foot soldiers readying for battle from the lagoonside district where the presidential palace and mansion are located.

A resident of the Cocody neighborhood where the mansion is located said around 700 Gbagbo supporters had gathered at the gates of the compound Sunday, after state television, still controlled by the entrenched ruler, called on the population to form a human shield to protect the presidential palace. The resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said the supporters had been armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

Toussaint Alain, Gbagbo’s representative in Europe, told reporters in Paris that Gbagbo is not giving up.

“President Gbagbo, I have said, is at the residence of the head of state, his usual workplace, and he is managing the crisis with teams that have been put into place to deal with this aggression coming from the outside,” Alain said. “It’s not up to America or France to decide who must lead the Ivory Coast.”

The Malian Embassy is overrun:

At the Malian Embassy, more than 2,000 Malian nationals have taken refuge after Gbagbo’s forces began attacking citizens of neighboring African nations. Mali, like most countries in Africa, has followed the United Nations position, calling on Gbagbo to step down and angering his supporters, who have carried out revenge killings.

“People are sleeping in the basement and in the halls. There’s no more room,” said Nouhou Diallo, a Malian community leader huddled inside. “The water was cut off yesterday. We’re scared to go out but we were so thirsty today that some of us ran across the road to get water from the lagoon.”

And even though the French took the airport, the roads to the airport are far too dangerous for anyone to travel on:

Even if the airport is now secure, however, it was close to impossible to reach.

Troops loyal to the defiant Gbagbo opened fire with automatic weapons on a three-car convoy that attempted to drive through Abidjan on Sunday morning, blasting out the windows and wounding one of the passengers, said driver Ahmed Yoda.

A United Nations armored personnel carrier was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade a day earlier, seriously injuring four peacekeepers.

Given what has happened and what seems about to happen in the coming days or even weeks, this feels more like the eye of the storm.

6:05 EDT: The full statement of Sec. Clinton:

“We are deeply concerned by the dangerous and deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire, including recent reports of gross human rights abuses and potential massacres in the west. The United States calls on former President Laurent Gbagbo to step down immediately. His continuing refusal to cede power to the rightful winner of the November 2010 elections, Alassane Ouattara, has led to open violence in the streets, chaos in Abidjan and throughout the country, and serious human rights violations. Gbagbo is pushing Côte d’Ivoire into lawlessness. The path forward is clear. He must leave now so the conflict may end. Both parties bear responsibility to respect the rights and ensure the safety of the citizens of Côte d’Ivoire.

“We also call on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians. President Ouattara’s troops must live up to the ideals and vision articulated by their elected leader. At the same time, we call on the UN peacekeeping mission to aggressively enforce its mandate to protect civilians.

“As President Ouattara takes the reins of government, he must prevent his troops from carrying out reprisals and revenge attacks against their former foes. The people of Côte d’Ivoire await and deserve the peace, security, and prosperity he has promised, and that they have for so long been denied.”

I’m not sure what else the US could say, and I’m not sure what they could do that would actually make the situation better. As I mentioned above, I don’t find the “have western powers solve it now” position very tenable.

6:10 EDT: Gbagbo’s men seem ready to martyr themselves:

“There has been no fighting here. We are awaiting the resumption of hostilities at any time and we are prepared to defend ourselves and maintain control of Abidjan by all means,” a pro-Gbagbo officer at the presidential palace told Reuters.

“Taking Abidjan will be tough, no one should think that we will easily abandon our positions. We are determined to go through to the end,” he said.

A Western diplomat said an attack had been planned on Saturday on the presidential residence by forces backing Ouattara, but it didn’t happen, possibly because of the human shield of Gbagbo’s youth supporters around it.

I still don’t see how this situation gets any better. (I also don’t see how the west could change then; all the west could do is try to negotiate a solution, but that would just incentivize the next person in power from leaving even when election results are clear).

From the same article, France is still talking about evacuating its 12,000 citizens in the country, but I have no idea how – the roads to the airport are deadly; and any other way out (land or sea) is probably even more so.

6:15 EDT: Things I would love to know: what the U.S. Defense Attaché Office for Cote D’Ivoire thinks of the conflict.

6:30 EDT: If you’re looking for good background on the previous French intervention and coup, I’d start here. What it lacks in style it makes up for in content.

–The hospital of Man, 88 km to the north of Duekoue, has received 46 people with bullet injuries in the past week, and is still receiving injured people even though fighting is over withm indicating violence may be ongoing.

The director of the hospital in Man, the largest in western Côte d’Ivoire plagued by political and ethnic violence, said Sunday at the AFP he welcomed in his establishment “46 wounded by gunfire “Since Monday, March 28.

“Since the beginning of hostilities on Monday until today, we received 46 people injured by bullets,” he told AFP William Kouassi, director of the regional hospital (CHR) of Man to a reporter from the AFP’s questions on an influx of wounded in his establishment raised by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“As fighting between armed forces on the main western cities have ceased March 31, new wounded continue to arrive at Danane, Man and Bangolo,” MSF said in a statement released Sunday. “The number of new casualties is extremely disturbing and indicates that violence continues in this area,” says the NGO.

“I’m surprised to be told that the hospital of Man is overwhelmed because of the war,” assured Mr. Kouassi. “For cons when hostilities began, the wounded were pouring in Bangolo. I went there, serious cases were referred at the CHR of Man is among them we counted 46 injuries severe Monday until today, “he added.

Developing…

6:40 EDT: One thing the west can do is speed up humanitarian aid as quickly as possible. The situation is dire:

The provision of basic social services has been suspended in many parts of the country. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, over 500,000 people have fled Abidjan in the past few days. In Duékoué and other western towns, people have fled for safety to the surrounding forests, or have sought shelter in sites or with host families already affected by the ongoing crisis.

More than 30,000 people are living in two IDP sites in Duékoué. Numerous corpses are strewn throughout the city’s streets. An estimated 250 displaced children are living in the forests, and soldiers from the peacekeeping mission are trying to reach them. Some 10,000 people who fled the town of Péhé and its surroundings have lost everything they own.

The affected people, mainly women and children, are in dire need of food, non-food items, shelter, health and sanitation services, among other things, which aid agencies have started distributing, while the identification of new sites for displaced people is underway.

“We are facing a serious humanitarian crisis with daunting protection challenges. We are ready to assist–but we cannot do so amidst flying bullets and in the absence of law and order. We call on the parties to observe a cease fire to preserve human lives and allow us to start assisting the civilian population,” Mr. Ngokwey said today in Abidjan.

7:00 EDT: In a sign that the battle is not at an end but rather in the middle somewhere, the chief General for Gbagbo’s army left asylum at the South African embassy and is back in charge of the army:

Ivory Coast army chief General Philippe Mangou has left the residence of the South African ambassador in Abidjan and rejoined forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, a military source told Reuters on Sunday.

Mangou had sought refuge with his family at the residence Wednesday night as forces backing presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara seized large swathes of the country in their push to unseat Gbagbo who has refused to cede power.

“General Mangou come back to take up his duties at the head of the army today,” the source close to Gbagbo’s forces told Reuters.

It’s still unclear how Gbagbo can pay his side or how long their supplies will hold out for.

7:15 EDT: This Al Jazeera video gets at how dangerous it is, including for the press.

7:25 EDT: I’ve mentioned Man, but Doctors without Borders says freshly injured are still arriving in hospitals in Danane and Bangolo. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that given the gravity of the situation, we still know very little about the extent of harm done.

7:50 EDT: A compelling summary of the challenges presented by Penelope Chester at UN Dispatch:

A key battle for Abidjan has begun, and it’s very difficult to predict how exactly this will end. If history is any guide, we can look at how the second Liberian civil war came to an end in 2003: a protracted siege of Monrovia by rebel forces, ongoing peace negotiations in Ghana and support (both military and political, by the end) of the U.S. and the physical removal of Charles Taylor were responsible for ending the conflict.

The siege of Abidjan, the country’s seat of power (even though Abidjan is not the official capital of Côte d’Ivoire, it is the political and economic heart of the nation) by pro-Ouattara forces moves this crisis from conflict to civil war. The longer the siege lasts, the more the population will suffer and the worst the humanitarian consequences. As we noted here recently, the human rights situation in Abidjan is perilous.

What is happening now in Côte d’Ivoire is the result of unsuccessful diplomacy efforts and negotiations led by regional organizations ECOWAS and the African Union, which, after the other, failed to find solutions. It’s also a failure of the broader international community. The United Nations Security Council, France, the U.S, the European Union have all been “condemning” the violence, and repeatedly asked Ggabgo to step down. International organizations – including the West African Central Bank – cut funding. In spite of all these efforts, the conflict has escalated out of control. Tens of thousands of lives are at risk, and we really have no idea just how bad this conflict will get before it gets better.

This keeps coming down to the fact that Gbagbo is willing to do more to stay in power (like using the Young Patriots as human shields) that no one else yet is willing to top. (And this is putting aside the atrocities almost certainly committed by forces loyal to Ouattara). When a despot is willing to use children/young adults as human shields and because of the nativism that he spouts those people are willing to do so, that should be called for the tyranny it is.

8:00 EDT: Senam Beheton points out that Mangou’s move to leave asylum is suicidal for his family.

8:20 EDT: Why the far right in America and France loves Gbagbo: he’s a pioneer of their version of Christianity, nativism, and economic conservatism. Hell, there’s even their version of birtherism. This translation from French is rough, but telling:

It’s been over ten years that criminals in the Ivory Coast prepare a genocide against the peoples of North and against “foreigners”. The origins of this crisis, a concept that crystallized the hatred of some of the Ivorian political class against an individual which is to be prevented at all costs by all political and legal means, to power politics. According to proponents of the concept of it Would there Ivorian strain of centuries, the true Ivorian blood pure, preferably Christian faith and the Ivorian fact, come to enjoy the economic boom of Côte d’Ivoire. In addition, they arrogate to themselves the rights to political hegemony with the claim to govern the nation Ivory Coast. The concept of “ivoirité was thus lethal weapon to disqualify Alassane Ouattara from any claim to the nomination a few elections whatsoever in Côte d’Ivoire.

In 1995 he was thus prevented from running for the presidency. In July 2000, a Constitution was adopted to measure him against an article which stipulates that any presidential candidate must be Ivorian by birth and born of Ivorian-born parents. This article was explicitly candidacy of Alassane Ouattara, then presented as Burkina Faso.

The concept of Ivoirite was gradually extended to all those who wear Yankee-sounding names: Ouattara, Bamba, Coulibaly, Soro, Konate. Etc.. A real witch hunt was organized against these “foreigners” to hegemonic pretensions. The harassment, humiliation, or even systematic physical violence were the daily lot of these “foreigners”. At military checkpoints or police, people are rackettées northerners, their identity cards torn and tattered. Denied their Ivorian identity.

[. . .]

In this position, [Gbagbo] presents himself as a victim of the global capitalist and imperialist forces arrayed against a president who claims a desire for independence. It is hoped the alliance and patriotic groups and progressive Africa. Moreover, riding the trend of the moment, he can expect the support of evangelical Christians-cons Alassane Ouattara, presented as a dangerous Islamist, as an outgrowth tropicalized Al Qaeda.

Inhofe and Le Pen are somewhere nodding their heads off. The rest of the article isn’t as interesting, as it tries to test Gbagbo’s faith.

8:45 EDT: Graphic video is emerging of the massacre in Duekoue. This is from the BBC (reporter and cameraman I mentioned above). Warning, it’s graphic.

9:05 EDT: Rare good news from Cote D’Ivoire. Caritas, the charity that reported that 1,000 had been massacred, had a priest abducted two days ago. That priest now has been released:

The director of Caritas in Abidjan, Father Richard Kissi, has been released unharmed in the Ivory Coast after being kidnapped by an armed group two days earlier, said a statement on the Caritas Internationalis website.

“Fr Richard Kissi was released today. He is doing well and has already reached the parish of Notre-Dame de Treichville where he is based,” said Jean Djoman, Director of Human Development at Caritas Côte d’Ivoire.

Fr Richard Kissi had been kidnapped on March 29 while he was heading to Anyama, a suburb of Abidjan, to evacuate seminarians at the “Grand Séminaire” after violent clashes had taken place in the area.

“We do not have any further elements on the circumstances and the motives for his kidnapping yet,” said Mr. Djoman.

That is good news.

9:15 EDT: Ouattara’s PM today reiterated the call for prosecutions of anyone who committed war crimes:

Investigations of reported massacres in western Côte d’Ivoire will be conducted and those responsible will be punished, said Sunday evening Guillaume Soro, Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo recognized by the international community.

“The Ivorian government’s position is clear: there is no impunity. We will investigate and those who are responsible – because we want a rule of law – will be punished,” he said in an interview broadcast by the international francophone television channel TV5MONDE.

In the heat of a civil war, I don’t look for Ouattara or allies to throw himself or his entire army under the bus. That’s unrealistic. But promising serious investigations and prosecutions is good, it’s necessary, and he should follow through on it. And the international community should absolutely threaten ICC involvement if he does not.

9:30 EDT: Nigeria has played a key role in discussions at the Security Council regarding Cote D’Ivoire. ECOWAS is a regional group, but essentially is dominated by Nigeria.

10:00 EDT: The BBC has put up pictures from Cote D’Ivoire.

10:30 EDT: Is the real problem in Cote D’Ivoire France?

Laurent Gbagbo started life as a youth activist who openly challenged the venerable Old Fox of Yamoussoukro before it was fashionable to do so. He and his wife Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, both of them university academics, were often in and out of prison. Gbagbo’s credentials in democratic struggle are unassailable. However, having been in power since 2000, he has outlived his relevance. He has disappointed his followers by preserving France’s monopolistic privileges over such public utilities as water, electricity, telecoms, roads and oil. His record in economic management has been, quite frankly, weak.

As for Ouattara, a large section of Ivoirien youth view him as the candidate of the French, Burkinabes, Malians and Senegalese; and of the World Bank and IMF, where he once served in the exalted position of Deputy Managing Director.

He is no doubt a competent technocrat. His problem is his backers; comprising a ragtag of mercenaries that make up the ‘forces nouvelles’ and shadowy reptilian types from places as wide apart as Ukraine, Lebanon and Iran. Ivoiriens will not forget in a hurry that it is these people that unleashed a civil war on their country.

At the root of this tragedy is the economic divide between the north and the south. There is also the brooding figure of Blaise Compaore across the border. Over 2 million Burkinabe migrant workers have provided the labour in the cocoa and coffee plantations which have sustained the Ivoirien economy. He could not be expected to ignore their fate. Félix Houphouët-Boigny failed to bequeath a legacy on which an orderly constitutional order could be established.

There is also the stranglehold of France-Afrique which has made nonsense of Ivoirien sovereignty for all these years. Some 85 per cent of the cash flow of the country goes through the BCEAO, the regional central bank of the French-backed West African Economic Community, to the French Treasury which has veto powers over how the Francophone countries can spend their own money. The French have arrogated to themselves the right of first refusal for public works contracts and the most lucrative raw materials concessions.

If Ouattara manages to actuate his internationally acquired prize, he would still have to address these realties, including the nitty-gritty of governing his own people. Ahead is not the bliss of summer, but a night of icy darkness and toil, to echo Max Weber.

I don’t have the ability to verify all the claims in there, so I’ll just pass it along with that warning. But while I’ve been focusing on the short run, the long run for Cote D’Ivoire is hardly roses; these are real problems only made harder by serious internal discord.

12:00 EDT: Last update today. Ouattara’s PM Guillaume Soro said the situation was ripe for a quick attack in Abidjan. We’ll see, I guess. The sooner this is over, the better, but the only path I see to a quick end involves either lots of blood or a sudden change of heart by someone involved.

Morning / Early Afternoon 4/2 Cote D’Ivoire Roundup

with one comment

This thread will cover all developments in Cote D’Ivoire this morning

8:45 EDT: Shortly after retaking the state television station, Gbagbo had a military leader give a televised address:

Forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo retook state TV headquarters Saturday. Gbagbo’s military spokesman Lt. Col. Alphonse Guano then made a televised address. In it, he called on security forces to report for duty to resist attacks by forces loyal to internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara, whose fighters now control most of the country.

A disheveled TV announcer said Gbagbo was at his residence Saturday and that it had not been attacked.

It is interesting that Gbagbo remains in hiding and hasn’t been seen in quite a while. But the signs are that he’s going to escalate this to the bitter end – he (or whoever is in power) has no interest in exile.

9:00 EDT: Le Monde says that Gbagbo has been distributing weapons to youth all week long. Translated:

Forces loyal to the outgoing president has managed to retain control of state television, RTI. In the morning, the military pro-Gbagbo called on the air chain to the mobilization of troops for the “protection of the institutions of the Republic” . In this“press number 1 PC fulcrum” , read by a soldier with a dozen others, they ask to join their five units located in Abidjan.

A scrolling banner has also announced that Charles Ble Goude, who heads the movement of “young patriots” pro-Gbagbo, would soon give orders, rekindling fears of street violence in the image of what happened in the past . The army has indeed distributed weapons to hundreds of young militants in the past week.

This reportedly includes heavy artillery, which has been heard around Abidjan.

9:10 EDT: Forces loyal to Ouattara are confident the end is near. Furthermore, people in the north of the country are eager for a return to normalcy. Translated:

These are probably present in Bouake displaced waiting with more impatience the outcome of this crisis. Mariam Coulibaly lives in the neighborhood Koko. She welcomes her thirty people who settle on mats. Added to 32 other IDPs staying with relatives. ” There are parents there are the friends of parents, there are the neighbors of Abidjan-Adjame … and there are also people who came to confide in me , says … it is not easy because for this feed is not an easy task!

These IDPs have a haste that this crisis ends in order to return home. ” The same day we learn that Laurent Gbagbo, left, said such a man we will return to Abidjan . ”

In another family, a young said he also expected the surrender of Laurent Gbagbo to go, otherwise it will continue to fear of renewed violence. A woman talks about her fears about the fate of those who remained in Abidjan: ” It’s hard to live apart … I am very afraid for them . “

9:40 EDT: The Red Cross has kept its estimate of the number of dead at Duekoue at 800, but the Roman Catholic Charity Caritas has estimated it at 1,000.

9:55 EDT: The UN has confirmed 330 fatalities in western Cote D’Ivoire, “mostly” by pro-Ouattara forces. Some background has emerged first on the conflict itself:

Col. Chaib Rais, the U.N. military spokesman, told The Associated Press that nearly 1,000 peacekeepers at Duekoue “are protecting the Catholic Church with more than 10,000 (refugees) inside and we have military camps in the area.”

But he said “I have no special report of (mass killings).”

Rais said there was fighting in and around the town on Sunday and Monday, between forces loyal to the rival leaders.

On Monday, fighters loyal to Ouattara took Duekoue.

ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said “communal violence” erupted there, apparently on Tuesday.

International and Ivorian Red Cross teams visited Duekoue Friday and saw a “huge number of bodies,” estimated at more than 800, she said.

Also, background on the tensions and people:

The area has been a hotbed for conflict between two tribes that support rival leaders vying for power in Ivory Coast, the democratically elected Ouattara and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to accept his defeat at November elections which he postponed for years.

The International Organization of Migration said Friday that tens of thousands of refugees have overcrowded Duekoue and that others who had fled the violence in Duekoue “are now stranded along the route, in fear for their lives.”

It said some of those slaughtered apparently were killed by “mercenaries” from nearby Liberia. Liberian mercenaries have been reported to be fighting for both Gbagbo and Ouattara.

The UN has also said that 100 people were killed by pro-Gbagbo mercenaries in west Cote D’Ivoire.

10:15 EDT: Slate Afrique has a tragic look at the downfall of Laurent Gbagbo. It’s in French, but Google translate has a serviceable translation.:

The path that led you to power was long. You were a teacher, union member, opposing illegal to Houphouet-Boigny, who you put in prison several times. You known exile in France in 1982. That’s when you meet your friends the French socialists who supported him until you take your power.Yes, you had the power back to your people. You and your people celebrated. They call you the Woudy, “the boy”. The real boy, your house is the one who is not afraid, who is courageous and who brings victory. You had brought the game to your people.

And this is what you lost. Rather than reigning chief of the entire Cote d’Ivoire, the Ivorian head of all, do you live mostly in-chief of your clan. Bedie and Ouattara had fought. And that had divided your country. Guei and his management had widened even more bumpy the ditch. Everything you had to do was reconcile your people with himself. Why did you not do? Why did you choose to continue to make war with supporters of Ouattara , who was your best yet Bedie cons?

So sad. I wish I could read French, this looks really well written.

10:35 EDT: Henry Gray from Doctors Without Borders filed this gripping report from Abidjan:

There’s a lot of pillaging and looting going on, and if you’re out on the streets, you’re basically a target. Armed gangs are out on the street and there is a real atmosphere of fear out in the community, particularly in the poorer areas. It’s weird, because Abidjan is actually a really nice city with well-maintained roads and nice bridges and big buildings. If you just landed here you could imagine you were in Australia or somewhere. But it’s not a great atmosphere here at the moment.

There are a lot of people shooting each other, but what we’re finding is that the number of people shooting each other is a fraction of the population of the city. There are five million people in this city, and even though 20 percent of the population has fled, there are still a huge number of people here, most of whom now have no access to health care. It’s too dangerous to move to get to a clinic or hospital, and even if you get there, most of the doctors and nurses won’t have been able to get there.

We heard about a woman in one area just the other day who had complications when she was giving birth, but the people attending to her couldn’t do anything. The army had blocked the bridges so they couldn’t get to a hospital in the south, and there was too much fighting going on, anyway. You get in a car to try and take somebody to a hospital and, more likely than not, you won’t be coming back. So it’s a bad situation, and the population is suffering because they can’t access basic medical care.

Horrifying.

10:40 EDT: Heavy gunfire has been heard around state TV and Gbagbo’s residence, but Ouattara’s forces have said they have not yet begun their push.

10:45 EDT: In response to a Twitter question, on Thursday UN (really French) troops took control of the airport as they did in 2005. That allowed Ouattara to open the airspace yesterday to get supplies in.

12:15 EDT: Apologies for the break. Here is a list of things that can be done by people in the US. I’m not sure the State Dept. can be more strong than they already have been, so I’d recommend focusing on the donations to Oxfam. Also, get other people aware of what’s going on. Between Japan and the Middle East, not many people are even aware of the Cote D’Ivoire crisis.

12:25 EDT: A wonderful reflection was linked on Twitter from Mark Canavera who used to work in Cote D’Ivoire, in both Abidjan and Duekoue. Here’s a sample:

800 people were massacred in Duékoué yesterday.  I used to work in Duékoué.  It would be any other small, rural town, but it has beautiful rock outcroppings that protrude from the earth like extraterrestrial mushrooms and beckon passersby to climb them to see the horizon.  On trips to Abidjan, we would stop in Duékoué, and I would buy my snacks for the rest of the trip: salt and pepper potato chips, or if I were feeling healthy, yoghurt, and a Diet Coke, or date bars.  There are flavored condoms, chocolate and strawberry, available at the cash register.  The cashiers never have change, so you wait until enough other people have made their purchases for the coins to build up.  The shop isn’t big, but the variety: mattresses and lamps and house wares, then the perfume and cologne section, and the dry goods.  And two aisles of wines and liquors, ranging from small baggies of banana liquor, made on the coast, that you bite at the corner and drink in a go, to $30 and $40 bottles of imported French wine.  We drive by the stone domes on the way out of town.

Go ahead and read the entire thing.

12:30 EDT: Looting is still going on, and there are 1,400 French soldiers in a camp in Abidjan. I think these are the same soldiers who are protecting foreigners.

12:35 EDT: An especially harrowing personal account from Abidjan shows account of Ouattara’s troops (FCRI) completely out of control, with massive looting and what sounds like a large number of deaths in Abidjan that have not even been uncovered yet:

I don’t know about if this will be technically a genocide, but an aspect that is being missed is that the pro-Gbagbo camp is not in control of anything right now. The armed forces on the street are FRCI and civilians they have armed and they are extracting revenge at an alarming rate. The FDS and Gbagbo forces that are armed are mostly contained and surrounded by ADO forces in one or two tiny parts of the city. The FRCI have been looting our district like mad and banging on our door regularly trying to get inside since this morning. They have a roadblock set up right outside our gate. They completely looted many of our neighbors and are burning houses to the ground in retaliation. Ouattara has no control over many of them anymore at all. There is no central command. A prison was opened yesterday morning and all the 5,000 prisoners freed and armed many who then took revenge on the population.

[. . .]

If it is to be a genocide here, I think it will now be from the FRCI side, as Ouattara has no control and many Dioula are angry and wanting revenge. The French and UN are basically saying they can’t help a lot of people anymore. Many are dying right now. We have heard sustained gunfire since 5am yesterday morning. There have been obus incendiaries, RPGs and mortars heard as well fairly regularly. We also heard heavy bombing most of the day today from the downtown region, where they are attacking Gbagbo’s palace.

Read the entire thing.

Another personal account shows a different story:

I’ve talked to several folks in Abidjan today, and they paint a relatively different picture of Abidjan from the one that you just retweeted from @texasinafrica (“pure anarchy”) – even the ones living close to Gbagbo’s residence.  They say that most people are staying home but that they are able to move through the streets a bit to get to shops, etc.  There are gunshots being heard with some regularity, although not in all neighborhoods.  Perhaps I’m just clinging to hope against hope, and obviously this is a very awful situation, but their general feeling is that this siege is going much better than would have been expected.

The fog of war, indeed.

12:40 EDT: Nationalist to the end, Gbagbo has authorized “Operation Immutable Dignity” to ‘take back’ the country from foreign forces (as a reminded, Ouattara has long been charged with being a foreigner, in part because he is Muslim).

12:45 EDT: French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today that Laurent Gbagbo is “living his last days as Head of State of Côte d’Ivoire.”

12:55 EDT: Reuters has a comprehensive article about breaking news today:

  • Gbagbo (back in control of state TV) was seen on state TV today, sipping tea.
  • The death toll in the conflict so far is at least 1,300 but likely far higher because so much fighting is in close quarters and neither side is disclosing their actions.
  • State TV said that Gbagbo would refuse any offers of exile.
  • The army gave arms to the pro-Gbagbo group Young Patriots this week, and that group has looted and killed civilians.

1:45 EDT: That wraps up this thread, I’m moving to a brand new thread.

Written by John Whitehouse

April 2, 2011 at 7:42 am