Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Ivorian President Gbagbo Remains Defiant Amid UN, French Military Assault

Ivory Coast's Gbagbo Remains Defiant

3:59am UK, Wednesday April 06, 2011
Sky TV

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo has refused to handover the country's presidency to Alessane Outtara, despite being surrounded by fighters loyal to his internationally-backed rival.

Gbagbo remained defiant even as three of his top generals reportedly ordered their men to stop fighting Outtara's forces, who had seized the presidential palace in the commerical capital Abidjan.

"I won the election and I'm not negotiating my departure," he told French TV station LCI by telephone from a bunker at his home.

"I find it absolutely incredible that the entire world is playing this ... game of poker."

Gbagbo has clung to power despite a UN-mandated vote count finding that he lost last November's presidential election, but his power has been diminished as Outtara's forces have descended on Abidjan.

Earlier, UN officials told reporters that Gbagbo's surrender was "imminent" and France's foreign minister Alain Juppe said the imternational community was "on the brink of convincing him to leave".

Juppe said that any negotiations with Gbagbo would require his recognition of Ouattara as president.

US President Barack Obama urged the embattled incumbent to step down immediately and voiced strong support for French and UN military efforts faced with the violence.

"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.

Gbagbo's forces called for a ceasefire after the UN peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, supported by the French military, targeted Gbagbo's heavy artillery.

Attack helicopters were used to take out the weapons after civilians were killed in shelling.

"Fighting has stopped but there is sporadic shooting by groups of youths who are not members of the FDS (Pro-Gbagbo army) or the Republican forces (of Alassane Ouattara)," UN mission spokesman Hamadoun Toure.

Gbagbo's army chief General Philippe Mangou, and two other generals requested their men surrender their arms to UN peacekeepers and seek protection.

"Following the bombardment by the French forces on some of our positions and certain strategic points in the city of Abidjan, we have ourselves stopped fighting and have asked the general commanding ONUCI (the UN force) for a ceasefire," Mangou said.

More than 1,500 people are reported to have died in the standoff that has rekindled the country's 2002-03 civil war.

International court prosecutor wants to open Ivory Coast investigation as soon as possible

By Mike Corder, The Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Tuesday he is analyzing information on last week's massacre in the Ivory Coast and wants to open a formal investigation.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo says he wants to "intervene" because "crimes against humanity affect not just people in one country like Ivory Coast, (they) affect humanity."

His comments came as Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo huddled with his family in a bunker at the besieged presidential residence and tried to negotiate terms of surrender months after his rival, Alassane Ouattara, was declared the internationally backed winner of November elections that plunged the West African nation into chaos.

Roman Catholic charity Caritas said over the weekend that more than 1,000 people were killed over three days last week in the western town of Duekoue in a neighbourhood controlled by forces fighting to install Ouattara as president.

Moreno-Ocampo said it was not yet clear who was responsible for the massacre.

"We are concerned about the recent information on massive atrocities committed in the western part of Cote d'Ivoire," he said. "We are trying to define exactly what happened there."

Moreno-Ocampo said that "Gbagbo himself accepted jurisdiction of the court and Mr. Ouattara confirmed that, so what we are doing now is collecting information in order to open an investigation there."

He urged the Ivory Coast's West African neighbours to help him speed up the process of starting an investigation by "referring" the case to the court.

If a state that recognizes the court calls for an investigation, Moreno-Ocampo can honour that request immediately. If that does not happen, Moreno-Ocampo has to gather enough evidence to persuade a panel of judges they should allow him to open an investigation, a process that could take weeks or months.

"We are discussing with some state parties particularly from the region," he said. "If they decide to refer the case, that will help to expedite the activities of the court in the Ivory Coast."

It was not clear if any countries close to Ivory Coast have offered to send the case to The Hague. Moreno-Ocampo said he would ideally like a member of regional grouping the Economic Community Of West African States to do it.

In December, as Ivory Coast was spiraling toward the conflict now enveloping the nation, Moreno-Ocampo warned the country's leaders to prevent atrocities.

While the warning appears to have done little to halt killings, Moreno-Ocampo said that it would make prosecutions easier as military and civilian leaders had been put on notice to make sure forces loyal to them did not commit crimes.

April 5, 2011

France’s Role in Three Conflicts Displays a More Muscular Policy

New York Times

PARIS — France on Tuesday found itself engaged in three shooting wars at once for the first time in memory, indicating a new muscularity in using power by the politically embattled French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

French peacekeeping troops attacked the presidential palace in Ivory Coast in support of the United Nations overnight, while French planes were attacking the troops of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. French forces are also fighting alongside the United States in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“This is entirely new,” said François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research here. “The reasons are different, but we are in three shooting wars simultaneously, and that in my memory has never happened before.”

With the loser of the Ivory Coast election, Laurent Gbagbo, negotiating surrender in Abidjan, France’s intervention in its former colony may prove to be of short duration. France hopes to be as lucky in the war against Colonel Qaddafi, who seems to be in the initial stages of trying to negotiate an exit.

In both instances, Mr. Sarkozy was the most active supporter of robust military action. But Mr. Sarkozy and his government have emphasized that they are using military force in the name of the United Nations, not out of any colonial impulse, with the aim of saving lives.

He claimed the use of force was justified by recent United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding the protection of civilians — a quick implementation of an idea, “the right to protect,” that has been floated for a decade.

Now, both Security Council resolutions, 1973 for Libya (sponsored by France, Britain and Lebanon and passed March 17), and 1975 for the Ivory Coast (sponsored by France and Nigeria and passed March 30), are viewed as precedents for authorizing military responses to humanitarian crises.

China and Russia, which like France are permanent members of the Security Council, have criticized the French interpretation of the resolutions and opposed its use of force in Libya and Ivory Coast.

Some have suggested that Mr. Sarkozy, who is at historical lows in the opinion polls, with a presidential election next year, is acting tough to stir up patriotism. “If Sarkozy could do it, he would declare a war every week,” said Didier Mathus, an opposition Socialist legislator on the foreign affairs committee of Parliament.

Others call that explanation simplistic, saying French voters remain deeply worried about the country’s continuing commitments in Afghanistan, where many think the war has been lost. They say the potential price of inaction in Libya and Ivory Coast may have weighed on Mr. Sarkozy.

Nick Witney of the European Council on Foreign Relations noted that acting quickly might have avoided a deeper shame with political consequences. “You might not reap popularity for taking action, but if we all stood by and watched a bloodbath in Benghazi, you might be slaughtered by public opinion,” he said. “After saying Qaddafi must go, if he’d crushed the opposition it would have been a huge embarrassment for the West.”

Bruno Tertrais, another French defense expert, said that French policy in Ivory Coast was not a big issue for voters — “it’s the usual business in Africa,” he said. “And I don’t think he’s doing Libya for domestic political reasons.”

He said, though, that Mr. Sarkozy might be seeking to compensate for “the failure of French diplomacy on Tunisia,” where the French remained largely supportive of an autocratic regime even as a mass uprising there toppled it.

Mr. Sarkozy’s former foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, a Socialist, agreed that Mr. Sarkozy seemed inclined to act quickly after remaining relatively passive during the Tunisian and Egyptian protests. Mr. Kouchner helped to promulgate and promote the “right to protect” doctrine both in and out of office.

“Sarkozy originally condemned the right to intervene but then he did it,” said Mr. Kouchner, who was replaced as foreign minister last November. “The war is just, the cause is just, even if the goal is a bit confused.” He said he opposed the infamous visit of Colonel Qaddafi to Paris in 2007, when the Libyan leader embarrassed his hosts and put up a tent in Paris, then reneged on promises for lucrative contracts.

Mr. Heisbourg, the defense expert, sees in the Sarkozy attack on Libya an element of revenge, while Mr. Kouchner sees mostly irony. “It’s hard to turn 180 degrees, to invite Qaddafi and then later bomb him,” Mr. Kouchner said.

“It’s a bit strange and a bit French, I have to say,” he said, laughing.

Mr. Kouchner also supports Mr. Sarkozy on Ivory Coast. “We are doing the right thing there,” he said, noting that France did not participate in the civil war. “We said we would support U.N. orders and we did that.”

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, asked for French military help on Sunday night to destroy Mr. Gbagbo’s heavy weapons, which he was using against civilians in Abidjan. “We bombed once but it was not a big deal,” Mr. Kouchner said. “We are protecting civilians there, and not just the French.”

French officials said that they were also concerned that a lengthy conflict might reproduce the intercommunal killings that happened in Duékoué, in western Ivory Coast, some of which were laid at the door of the forces of Alassane Ouattara, the internationally acknowledged winner of last year’s presidential election. Abidjan, the commercial capital, is a center of Gbagbo support, and an extended fight for control of that city could lead to high casualties, they said.

Moreover, some 12,000 foreigners and people with dual citizenship live in Abidjan, and France said it wanted to ensure their protection and prevent the taking of hostages. Already on Monday afternoon, there were reports that at least two French citizens were taken hostage by Gbagbo forces.

Mr. Tertrais saw no real change in the former French colony, where peacekeeping troops have been present under various mandates since the civil war of 2002, when French troops entered to separate both sides in what was probably the last old-style French intervention in Africa. That operation was later put under United Nations auspices.

Mr. Mathus, the Socialist legislator, thinks Mr. Sarkozy is “playing with fire” in Ivory Coast from “a post-colonial reflex” and says that reports of massacres by Mr. Ouattara’s forces are “not a very good omen.”

So far, the Libyan intervention appears to be popular in France, with a strong majority of voters supporting it in recent polls.

If the conflict drags on, however, attitudes could change, especially given the cost of all this military intervention when France is trying to trim its defense spending and reduce its budget deficit. The major defense debate will be about Afghanistan, Mr. Tertrais said. “But it will be much more difficult now to argue for cuts in defense expenditure.”

Mr. Mathus notes that not a word has been said so far about the cost of France’s latest military adventures.

Scott Sayare contributed reporting.

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