UNITED NATIONS — Fighters backing Ivory Coast’s strongman Laurent Gbagbo have regrouped and resumed attacks against U.N. peacekeepers, civilians and forces loyal to his rival, the top U.N. peacekeeping official said Friday.
The development represented a dramatic reversal of fortune for Gbagbo, who earlier this week appeared on the verge of defeat after the United Nations and France launched attacks against his military bases and other vital installations in an effort to suppress his ability to target his enemies.
The United Nations is weighing whether to begin a fresh round of attacks against Gbagbo’s forces if they move against president-elect Alassane Ouattara or continue to attack civilians, according to Alain Le Roy, the U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping.
After briefing the U.N. Security Council on the crisis, Le Roy said an offer Tuesday by Gbagbo’s top generals and other loyalists to surrender their weapons and begin negotiating Gbagbo’s departure was a “trick.”
“At the end, Mr. Gbagbo rejected any peaceful solution the next day, Wednesday, and they restarted shelling at our headquarters and. . .the civilian population,” said Le Roy, a French national.
Le Roy said Gbagbo’s supporters had used the “lull” in fighting provided by the negotiations to reinforce their positions in the neighborhoods of Plateau and Cocody, a Gbagbo stronghold in the commercial capital of Abidjan where most of the foreign embassies are located.
Gbagbo’s forces targeted the French Embassy with mortar and rocket fire Friday afternoon, the second time they have done so in the past 48 hours, according to a communiqué issued by the embassy.
As the fighting intensified, the United States, Israel, India, China and 19 other countries requested U.N. support in relocating embassy personnel to safer locations.
Le Roy voiced concern that Gbagbo’s forces may be advancing toward the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara and his supporters have been residing in recent months under the protection of U.N. blue helmets.
The violence that erupted in Ivory Coast in recent weeks came more than four months after Gbagbo, who has led Ivory Coast for a decade, lost a U.N.-certified election to Ouattara.
Gbagbo refused to accept the results of the vote and launched a campaign of violence against suspected supporters of Ouattara and the more than 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers stationed in the country.
Since the election, the peacekeepers have protected Ouattara and his backers at the Golf Hotel. Ouattara, meanwhile, plotted a military response.
Last month, a coalition of former rebels and disaffected police and soldiers who back Ouattara struck back at Gbagbo’s forces, easily seizing town after town until they entered Abidjan last week.
The two sides had fought to a stalemate until the United Nations, backed by French troops, attacked Gbagbo’s heavy weapons sites. Gbagbo and his family then sought refuge in a bunker beneath the presidential palace, which Ouattara’s forces have surrounded.
But Le Roy said Gbagbo’s troops had preserved much of their arsenal of heavy weapons.
“We understand the forces of Mr. Gbagbo have had time to regain terrain,” Le Roy said. “While we speak, they might be very close to the Gold Hotel.”