Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has telephoned Alassane Ouattara, the President of Cote d”Ivoire, to discuss the rapidly developing situation there, and to reaffirm the importance of the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the country to protect civilians.
Mr. Ban expressed particular concern and alarm about reports that pro-Ouattara forces may have killed many civilians in the town of Duékoué in the west of the country.
“The Secretary-General said those responsible should be held accountable,” said a statement issued by his spokesperson following the telephone conversation late on Saturday.
Mr. Ouattara, while denying his forces were involved, said he had launched an investigation and would welcome an international inquiry into the matter.
Forces supporting Mr. Ouattara have reportedly made significant advances as they strive to oust Laurent Gbagbo, Côte d”Ivoire”s former president who refuses to step down despite his defeat by Mr. Ouattara in a runoff presidential election held last November. Mr. Quattara is recognized by the UN and the rest of the international community as the country”s duly elected president.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), meanwhile, voiced concern that the crisis in Côte d”Ivoire could have disastrous humanitarian consequences, saying hundreds of people have been killed in the western towns of Duékoué and Guiglo, while preliminary reports indicate killings may have been committed in other areas.
In the commercial capital, Abidjan, the fighting has led to widespread insecurity, preventing civilians from finding refuge in safer areas, disrupting the distribution of humanitarian aid that had been ongoing for 90,000 people, and making it nearly impossible to deliver aid.
“Serious human rights violations have been committed,” said Ndolamb Ngokwey, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Côte d”Ivoire.
“The protection of civilians is an urgent priority. United Nations agencies and NGOs call on the parties to the conflict to do their utmost to prevent new violence, respect international humanitarian law, protect civilians and allow humanitarian access to aid agencies to reach those in distress,” he added in a statement.
The provision of basic social services has been suspended in many parts of the country. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 500,000 people have fled Abidjan in the past few days. In Duékoué and other western towns, people have fled to the surrounding forests, or have sought shelter other sites or with host families already affected by the ongoing crisis.
More than 30,000 people are living in two internally displaced persons” (IDP) sites in Duékoué. Numerous corpses are strewn throughout the town”s streets, according to OCHA. An estimated 250 displaced children are living in the forests, and soldiers from the peacekeeping mission are trying to reach them. Some 10,000 people who fled the town of Péhé and its surroundings have lost everything.
The affected people, mainly women and children, are in dire need of food, non-food items, shelter, health and sanitation services, among other things, which aid agencies have started distributing, while the identification of new sites for displaced people is underway.
“We are facing a serious humanitarian crisis with daunting protection challenges. We are ready to assist – but we cannot do so amidst flying bullets and in the absence of law and order. We call on the parties to observe a cease fire to preserve human lives and allow us to start assisting the civilian population,” said Mr. Ngokwey.