U.N. refuses to pull troops from Ivory Coast

By Tom Burgis and Harvey Morris
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 7:27 PM

LAGOS, NIGERIA - The United Nations says it will not withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Ivory Coast, defying an order to leave from Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to relinquish the presidency despite losing last month's election has plunged the country into crisis.

The U.N. decision to stand firm followed an attack on one of its vehicles by six armed men in a civilian car Friday night in Abidjan, the commercial capital.

A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary-general, said late Saturday that the force of 7,500 troops "will fulfill its mandate and will continue to monitor and document any human rights violations, incitement to hatred and violence, or attacks on U.N. peacekeepers."

International outrage at Gbagbo's intransigence mounted after security forces opened fire Thursday on supporters of Alassane Ouattara - the election winner, according to U.N.-verified results - killing several.

Increasingly isolated but seemingly still enjoying the military's loyalty, Gbagbo on Saturday "requested the immediate departure of the [U.N. mission] and the French forces supporting it," a spokesman said.

A contingent of the U.N. force, stationed in Ivory Coast since the 2002-03 civil war that split the world's biggest cocoa producer in two, has been deployed to protect Abidjan's Golf Hotel, where Ouattara and his parallel government are ensconced.

The U.N., African nations and Western powers have recognized Ouattara as the rightful president and demanded that Gbagbo leave office. The European Union is expected this week to place 18 or more of his lieutenants under sanctions.

The U.N. Security Council will meet Monday to decide whether to extend the Ivory Coast force's mandate, which expires at year's end. Monday's session is likely to see Russia, one of the council's five veto-wielding members, urge caution about the prospect of the U.N. being dragged into the Ivory Coast dispute.

Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin last week told Security Council colleagues, with reference to the Ivory Coast crisis, that the U.N. should not become involved in domestic political crises, according to diplomats.

Commanded by a Bangladeshi general under the civilian authority of Choi Young-Jin, a former Korean envoy to the U.N., the blue-helmet force is one part of a delicate military balance.

Ouattara is backed - and guarded at the Golf - by the New Forces, the rebels who have controlled the mainly Muslim north since the war. He has appointed Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader who served in a power-sharing government with Gbagbo, as prime minister.

Ranged against the New Forces - and, in a thorny dilemma for the U.N., potentially against the peacekeepers - is the army. Beyond rumors of internal divisions, the top brass has shown no signs of abandoning Gbagbo.

However, plans by the eight-nation monetary union to which Ivory Coast belongs to hand over control of national finances to Ouattara could deprive Gbagbo, a left-leaning populist who has ruled for a decade, of the means to pay soldiers' salaries.

Gbagbo also has the backing of the Young Patriots organization led by Charles Ble Goude, who is under U.N. sanctions for his leading role in attacks against northerners and the interests of former colonial power France in 2004.

Goude, known as the "general of the streets" for his ability to mobilize thousands of young men, last week accused Mr Choi of supporting the rebels.

- Financial Times

Morris reported from New York.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company