Forces loyal to former president of C"d"Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down despite his defeat in November"s elections, opened fire last night towards United Nations peacekeepers in charge of security for a top African Union (AU) emissary, according to the UN peacekeeping mission in the country.
Deploring the repeated acts of aggression against its patrols, the UN Operation in C"d"Ivoire (UNOCI) reported today that its security forces stationed at the Pullman Hotel were waiting for the arrival of the AU Emissary, Kenya"s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was escorted by a UNOCI patrol, when a group of young people from the Gbagbo camp encircled them.
"The armed elements, which were supporting them, opened fire in the direction of the UNOCI vehicles forcing the peacekeepers to respond by shooting in the air," the mission said in a press statement.
It stressed that the version of events given by Ivorian state television, under Mr. Gbagbo"s control, was not based on fact.
"It was in fact part of an ongoing campaign whose objective is to incite hatred among President Gbagbo"s supporters against UNOCI," it said in the statement, adding, "UNOCI reiterates its appeal for calm and serenity to ensure a favourable environment to find a solution to the current post-electoral crisis."
The nearly 9,000-strong peacekeeping operation has been supporting efforts over the past seven years to reunify a country split by a civil war in 2002 into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.
November"s run-off election was meant to be a culminating point in this process; and the UN, the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and many countries recognized opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the clear victor. But Mr. Gbagbo rejected the outcome of the poll, refused to step down and demanded UNOCI"s withdrawal " which the UN has rejected.
The resulting turmoil has displaced tens of thousands of people, mainly in the west of the country where the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is strengthening its presence to cope with the crisis.
UNHCR teams have been deployed in the towns of Man and Danan"o register internally displaced people (IDPs) and monitor their protection needs. More than 18,000 people are believed to be in this area.
The UN refugee agency "is particularly concerned about conditions at the Catholic mission in the town of Du"u"where some 13,000 people have sought shelter," the agency said in a statement today. "The church compound there does not have the sanitation facilities to cope with the numbers, garbage is accumulating, and the risks of disease are growing."
Meanwhile in eastern Liberia, where some 30,000 refugees have fled from C"d'Ivoire, work is under way on the construction of a new camp in the town of Bahn but the difficult jungle conditions have made this slower going than anticipated, UNHCR reported. Two bulldozers have been brought in from Sierra Leone to speed up the clearing of land, which until now has been done by hand. UNHCR estimates that some 600 Ivorians are crossing the border into Liberia each day.
In Geneva, humanitarian agencies with a presence in West Africa today launched a $32.7 million regional emergency plan in order to be prepared for humanitarian needs that could arise due to C"d'Ivoire's political crisis. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that two millions Ivorians " including 100,000 refugees and 450,000 IDPs " could be affected if a major humanitarian crisis develops.
The six-month appeal aims to allow UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to secure funds that would be used to provide a timely and effective humanitarian aid in C"d'Ivoire and in the neighbouring countries of Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana in vital sectors. The aid will include support for protection, health, water and sanitation, education, food and nutrition. The funds will also help assist those already affected by the ongoing crisis.
In a statement today, OCHA said that the current crisis is already affecting lives and livelihoods of both the displaced and host communities. Displaced children are unable to attend school and families have lost their sources of income. Humanitarian aid workers also estimate that as many as 420,000 nationals of neighboring countries currently living in C"d"Ivoire could return to their countries of origin and require assistance, notably in transit camps, should the situation further deteriorate.