ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — United Nations and French helicopters fired rockets on strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s residence Sunday in an assault the world body said was to retaliate for attacks by his forces on U.N. headquarters and civilians.
Residents from nearby neighborhoods reported seeing two U.N. Mi-24 attack helicopters and a French helicopter open fire on the residence, where Gbagbo is holed up in a bunker. The residents did not want to be named, for fear of reprisal.
An Associated Press reporter saw the helicopters take off from the French military base, followed minutes later by explosions coming from the direction of the residence. Successive waves of French helicopters took off from the base in the following hours, and additional bombardments could be heard.
Gbagbo has been living in a bunker in his residence in Abidjan for nearly a week. After a decade in power, he refuses to step aside even though the United Nations has ruled that he lost the presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.
Forces loyal to Gbagbo were encircled at the presidential residence last week but broke out Saturday, ambushing a patrol of soldiers supporting his rival and advancing downtown. Pro-Gbagbo forces also attacked U.N. headquarters Saturday and Sunday.
“This is in retaliation for a series of attacks for the last three or four days not only against [the United Nations] but also against the civilian population — often with heavy weapons,” U.N. spokesman Hamadoun Toure said.
Human rights groups have accused both sides’ forces of killing hundreds of civilians in recent weeks.
Toure said Sunday’s airstrikes targeted the presidential palace and Gbagbo’s residence, as well as military bases where heavy weapons had been identified.
Gbagbo has lost control of virtually the entire country in the past two weeks as forces loyal to Ouattara have swept down from the north and west into the commercial capital. U.N. and French forces joined the effort last week, and a first round of airstrikes destroyed much of Gbagbo’s arsenal.
In the wake of the onslaught, Gbagbo and his top military men were negotiating a surrender early last week that had raised expectations that the four-month political standoff was nearing an end. But he continued to assert he would not give up power and was the legitimate president of Ivory Coast.
“I am concluding that Mr. Gbagbo has lost contact with reality,” said Choi Young-jin, head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The United Nations said the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara is based came under attack late Saturday and one peacekeeper was injured. Rockets and mortars landed on the hotel grounds shortly after U.N. forces came under attack nearby, Toure said. One peacekeeper was evacuated to a hospital with serious injuries, he said.