Ivory Coast: Gbagbo sits tight as UN steps up pressure



Ivory Coast: Gbagbo sits tight as UN steps up pressure Abidjan: Laurent Gbagbo's isolated Ivory Coast regime was locked in a tense stand-off with the international community as the United Nations complained of "massive" human rights abuses.

Gbagbo has rejected demands he cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara, and has instead ordered UN peacekeepers to leave the country, stirring fears the fragile West African state might plunge back into chaos.

The United Nations has refused the order to stand down its 10,000-strong UNOCI force, and its chief human rights official has accused Gbagbo's security forces of involvement in dozens of alleged kidnappings and murders.

Former colonial power France, the United States, European Union and Canada have threatened sanctions, while the African Union and Ivory Coast's West African neighbours in the ECOWAS bloc have demanded Gbagbo step down.

UN peacekeepers continue to patrol in the restive port city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's sprawling commercial capital, supported by France's 900-strong Licorne, a holdover from Paris' formerly much larger military presence.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claim to have won last month's election, and both have had themselves declared president, but the incumbent has so far retained control of the official armed forces and of Abidjan's ministry buildings.

Ouattara has been recognised as president by the international community, and is supported by the former rebel movement that controls Ivory Coast north of the 2003 ceasefire line that divides the country into two armed camps.

But in the south, home to the government and the cocoa ports that dominate Ivory Coast's economy, his movements are limited to the grounds of the Golf Hotel, a luxury waterfront resort in Abidjan protected by UN "blue helmets".

Meanwhile, in the poor suburbs of the city, there are reports of gangs in uniform raiding houses at night and "disappearing" suspected Ouattara backers.

On Sunday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern about "the growing evidence of massive violations of human rights" in the restive West African country since Thursday.

"In the past three days there has been more than 50 people killed, and over 200 injured," she said in a statement issued in Geneva, vowing "to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions."

She said witnesses blamed "armed individuals in military uniform accompanied by elements of the Defence and Security Forces or militia groups". Ivory Coast's official "Defence and Security Forces" back Gbagbo's rule.

PTI