United Nations, French lead assault in Ivory Coast
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — United Nations and French helicopters fired rockets on strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s residence yesterday in an assault the U.N. said was to retaliate for attacks by his forces on U.N. headquarters and civilians.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had authorized the strikes, accusing Gbagbo of using heavy weapons against Ivory Coast civilians and the U.N. forces trying to protect them.
Residents from nearby neighborhoods reported seeing two U.N. Mi-24 attack helicopters and a French helicopter open fire on the residence, where Gbagbo is holed up in a bunker. The residents asked that that they not be named for fear of reprisal.
An Associated Press reporter saw the helicopters take off from the French military base followed minutes later by explosions coming from the direction of the residence. Successive waves of French helicopters took off from the base in the following hours and additional bombardments could be heard.
Gbagbo has been living in a bunker in his residence in Abidjan for nearly a week. After a decade in power, he refuses to step aside even though the United Nations has ruled that he lost the November presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.
Forces loyal to Gbagbo were encircled at the presidential residence earlier this week but broke out on Saturday, ambushing a patrol of soldiers loyal to his rival and advancing downtown.
Pro-Gbagbo forces also attacked U.N. headquarters on Saturday and again yesterday.
In New York, a statement issued by the U.N. secretary-general accused Gbagbo and supporters of saying earlier in April that they were willing to negotiate an end to the crisis but that “they, in fact, used that time to regroup their forces and redeploy heavy weapons.”
Since then, Ban said, Gbagbo’s forces have attacked U.N. peacekeepers, civilians and the Golf Hotel where Ouattara is holed up.
Ban said he authorized U.N. units, with backing from French forces, to carry out attacks aimed at eliminating Gbagbo’s heavy weapons.
He urged Gbagbo again “to step aside immediately” and turn the government over to Ouattara.