Ivory Coast leader cornered after UN and France strike

April 6, 2011 - 0:0

AXIM, Ghana — The United Nations and France went on the offensive Monday against Ivory Coast’s strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, striking targets at his residence, his offices and two of his military bases in a significant escalation of the international intervention into the political crisis engulfing the nation.

By early Tuesday, Gbagbo was in a bunker beneath his residence and was negotiating a possible surrender through the French ambassador, according to Alain Lobognon, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, Guillaume Soro. Forces supporting Gbagbo’s rival, Alassane Ouattara, were several hundred feet away.
The fighting was reported to have intensified in the hours before dawn on Tuesday with news reports and witnesses speaking of sustained machinegun and heavy weapons fire ringing out over the city, and residents pinned down in their homes.
France, which showed a newfound muscularity by championing military strikes against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya, on Monday attacked heavy artillery and armored vehicles at Gbagbo’s residence and presidential offices, two centers of his power, a French military spokesman said.
The United Nations said it had also launched helicopter strikes against Gbagbo’s forces at two of his bases, to prevent them from using the kinds of heavy weapons that have been aimed at civilians and United Nations personnel during the crisis.
The international attacks coincided with a renewed assault by local troops loyal to Ouattara, the man recognized by the United Nations, the African Union and other international bodies as the winner of last year’s presidential election.
With the attacks under way, Soro, who is Ouattara’s prime minister, declared Monday that Gbagbo’s rule was now only hours away from ending.
“Our forces have made significant advances,” Soro said in a telephone interview. “In a few hours it will be all over. We came into the city of Abidjan today, and I think it will soon be finished.”
International officials have long called on Gbagbo to step down, but Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took pains to say that the United Nations was “not a party to the conflict.” He said it had taken action only because forces loyal to Gbagbo had used “mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns against the civilian population.”
He also noted that Gbagbo’s forces had fired on United Nations patrols and attacked the organization’s headquarters in Abidjan “with heavy-caliber sniper fire as well as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades,” wounding four peacekeepers.
(Source: nytimes.com)