Rival's forces capture I.Coast's besieged Gbagbo

11th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ivory Coast leader Alassane Ouattara's forces, backed by French and UN troops, captured his besieged rival Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan on Monday at the climax of a deadly five-month crisis.

Gbagbo, who has held power since 2000 and stubbornly refused to admit defeat in November's presidential election, was detained and taken to his rival's temporary hotel headquarters, with his wife Simone and son Michel.

"The nightmare is over," Ouattara's prime minister, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, said on the victorious camp's television channel, also calling for forces still loyal to Gbagbo to change sides.

The network showed footage of the former strongman apparently inside a room in the Golf Hotel, wearing a vest, wiping himself down with a towel and then changing shirts. He appeared visibly tired but otherwise unharmed.

Ouattara spokeswoman Anne Ouloto told AFP the former first couple had been brought to the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara's camp was for months besieged by Gbagbo's forces, at around 1.00 pm (1300 GMT), shortly after the arrest.

"He's here with his wife and his son Michel. I can see them now," she said, speaking by telephone from the former lagoon-side resort now turned into an armed camp protected by former rebel troops and UN peacekeepers.

Speaking in New York, Ivory Coast's UN envoy Youssoufou Bamba vowed that Gbagbo would now stand trial.

"Mr Gbagbo was arrested, he is alive and well and he will be brought to justice for the crimes he has committed," Bamba said, adding that only Ivorian forces were involved in his detention.

The situation in other districts of Abidjan, some still controlled by Gbagbo loyalists, including the downtown business district of Plateau and nearby Cocody, was not immediately clear after Gbagbo's arrest.

Earlier, witnesses had reported seeing pro-Ouattara forces entering Gbagbo's besieged residential compound, from which they had been repeatedly repulsed, while French and UN armoured vehicles deployed on a road nearby.

Troops from the cocoa-rich nation's former colonial ruler France and from a UN peacekeeping force have been pounding Gbagbo's forces since Sunday in a bid to destroy the heavy weapons they were reportedly using against civilians.

Bodies litter the streets of the west African nation's commercial capital from days of street-to-street fighting, after Ouattara's forces swept down from the north of the country in a lightning attack last week.

A witness said earlier that French helicopters "fired several missiles into the zone. A large plume of black smoke is rising from around the residence."

"Heavy machine-guns targeted one of the helicopters but it was not hit," the witness added.

A spokesman for the UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) said its peacekeepers and allies from France's "Licorne" force had aimed to destroy heavy weapons that were being used against civilians.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said the French leader had a lengthy phone conversation with Ouattara, a former deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, shortly after Gbagbo was arrested.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Gbagbo should be treated with respect following his capture, hailing Ouattara as "the rightful president".

"Mr Gbagbo has acted against any democratic principles in the way he has behaved in recent months. And of course there have been many, many breaches of any rule of law as well," Hague said.

"At the same time, we would say that he must be treated with respect and any judicial process that follows should be a fair and properly organised judicial process in Cote d'Ivoire."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon confirmed he had ordered Sunday's attack and repeated allegations that the Gbagbo camp had used an offer of talks he made last week "to regroup their forces and redeploy heavy weapons".

France on Monday said its military had taken part in the weekend raids at the UN chief's request, and firmly denied reports that its special forces had taken Gbagbo and handed him over to Ouattara's men.

The International Criminal Court's prosecutor has launched a preliminary investigation into the violence in Ivory Coast to see if crimes committed are serious enough to come under its jurisdiction.

The court tries allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Both sides have been accused of massacres during the stand-off and ensuing conflict, with mass graves reportedly found near Abidjan and hundreds killed or raped in the western town of Duekoue.

Human Rights Watch has said forces loyal to Ouattara also burned down villages, citing new evidence of summary killings of Gbagbo supporters in the far west.

The conflict has also hit supplies of food and water and power, with UN agencies warning of the threat of mass outbreaks of disease including a resurgence of cholera in Abidjan.

© 2011 AFP

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