West backs UN efforts in Ivory Coast, Moscow concerned
UN and French military actions against Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday won backing from Washington and Europe but raised concerns with other global and regional powers including Moscow.
With Gbagbo hunkered down in a bunker at his home trying to negotiate an exit deal, US President Barack Obama urged Gbagbo to step down immediately and voiced strong support for the French and UN military efforts.
Gbagbo, cornered by his rival Alassane Ouattara's forces which are backed by French and UN forces, on Monday saw his barracks and the presidential palace attacked by them.
The UN mission in Ivory Coast UNOCI said it was acting on the basis of a UN Security Council resolution that allowed it to protect civilians, while France said the UN had requested its assistance.
"To end this violence and prevent more bloodshed, former president Gbagbo must stand down immediately, and direct those who are fighting on his behalf to lay down their arms," Obama said in a statement.
"I strongly support the role that United Nations peacekeepers are playing as they enforce their mandate to protect civilians, and I welcome the efforts of French forces who are supporting that mission," Obama said.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy had late Monday also backed the UN efforts, saying: "I welcome ongoing efforts of the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire to protect the civilian population in line with the mandate given by the UN Security Council."
Regional powerhouse Nigeria also supported the efforts, saying the United Nations should employ all necessary means to protect civilians from violence.
"I do not know the precise circumstances of their engagement, but I will say this UNSC resolution 1975 is broad enough to permit their engagement if the circumstances dictate that they should in order to protect innocent civilians," Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia told AFP.
"I do not believe that either UNOCI or the French force stationed in Abidjan would presume to act outside their UN-sanctioned mandate."
Moscow however questioned the use of force by UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, saying it had requested a special briefing at the UN Security Council to address the situation but was not satisfied with its results.
"We are now looking into the legal side of the issue because peacekeepers had a mandate which requires them to be neutral and impartial," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
"So far we have not received particularly precise answers to our questions," he said.
Russia is "extremely concerned" by the violence in Ivory Coast, Lavrov said. "The situation there is not improving but abruptly deteriorating," he said.
South Africa also raised concerns about the role of foreign forces.
"South Africa is deeply concerned by the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Cote d'Ivoire," Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told journalists.
"I don't remember giving any mandate to anyone for an aerial bombardment in Cote d'Ivoire. We would not necessarily support that which we have not voted for," she said.
World powers including the United States also voiced alarm at a massacre of hundreds of people in the western town of Duekoue, which was blamed on pro-Ouattara forces as they wrested control from Gbagbo, who has refused to step down in favour of Ouattara following disputed November 2010 polls.
"The United States joins with the international community in our deep concern about reports of massacres in the western region of the country, and the dangers faced by innocent civilians -- particularly the most vulnerable," Obama said.
"All parties must show restraint and respect the rights of the Ivorian people, and I welcome President Ouattara's pledge to ensure accountability for those who have carried out attacks against civilians," Obama said.
The West African bloc ECOWAS condemned the massacre, saying in a statement that it "wishes to express its horror at the reported massacre on 29th March 2011 of civilians in and around the town of Duekoue in the western region of Cote d'Ivoire."
"The (ECOWAS) commission firmly condemns this heinous act and wishes to state that it will actively support any action to bring the perpetrators to justice at the appropriate time."
The UN refugee chief meanwhile warned that Ivory Coast's political conflict could destabilise the entire west Africa region and that it has generated new ethnic tensions that could last.
The conflict, particularly violence in west Ivory Coast can "contribute to inter-ethnic tensions that of course will last," said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warning that they could also spill over to neighbouring Liberia.
"The prolongation of this conflict in Cote d'Ivoire could have a major destabilising effect in the whole of west Africa, not only in Liberia," said Guterres.
© 2011 AFP