Côte d’Ivoire: Ban again calls on Gbagbo to step down to avoid further turmoil

18 Feb 2011

Côte d’Ivoire: Ban again calls on Gbagbo to step down to avoid further turmoil

28 January 2011 – On the eve of co-chairing an African meeting on the post-electoral turmoil in Côte d'Ivoire, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today again called on ex-president Laurent Gbagbo to step down in the face of his United Nations-certified defeat by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

"A lot is at stake. First of all, the fundamental principle of democracy that the genuine will of the people should be reflected," he told a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum ahead of co-chairing the meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

"Then secondly, the integrity of the African Union and ECOWAS and the whole international community, including the United Nations, should be preserved. That's very important. Therefore, I would urge again that Mr. Gbagbo and his camp should fully respect the will of the Côte d'Ivoire people, which has been expressed through the election."

The UN, as requested by the parties, certified the victor in the November run-off elections, declaring that Mr. Ouattara was the clear victor in what was meant to be the culminating point in reunifying a country split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.

But Mr. Gbagbo's constitutional court threw out many votes from Mr. Ouattara's northern heartland, declaring Mr. Gbagbo elected. He has since refused to step down, although the UN, AU and ECOWAS, and many individual countries all recognize Mr. Ouattara as the rightfully elected president. ECOWAS has even mentioned a military option to resolve the crisis.

Mr. Gbagbo has demanded the withdrawal of the nearly 9,000-strong UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), which has been supporting the stabilization and reunification efforts over the past seven years. The UN categorically rejected the demand and reinforced the mission with 2,000 more troops and three armed helicopters.

Mr. Ban leaves Davos tomorrow for Addis Ababa to determine with his African partners the next steps for a peaceful solution. "Much is at stake," he said. "The longer the crisis continues, the more the security, human rights and humanitarian situation will deteriorate."

The turmoil, much of it involving Gbagbo loyalist forces attacking civilians and UN convoys in Abidjan, the commercial capital, as well as ethnic strife in the west of the country, has displaced tens of thousands of people. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that the number of refugees fleeing to neighbouring Liberia has passed the 31,000 mark, mostly women and children.

A second airlift of UNHCR relief supplies is scheduled for this weekend, bringing in 83 tonnes of aid, including 17,000 blankets, 11,400 mats, 11,400 jerrycans, 5,700 kitchen sets and 5,700 tarpaulins from an emergency stockpile in Copenhagen. Some 20,000 or more additional Ivorians are estimated to be internally displaced.

Adding to the crisis, a cholera outbreak has hit the Abidjan neighbourhood of Adjamé, claiming seven lives out of 35 cases, a fatality rate of 20 per cent, which UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) country head Sylvie Dossou called "unacceptably high."

The agency is providing 250,000 bars of soap, five cholera treatment kits, and 3,000 public awareness posters urging everyone to wash their hands with soap and promoting safe hygiene practices to combat the acute diarrhoeal infection which can kill within hours but is also easily treatable with prompt administration of oral rehydration salts costing less than 10 US cents per treatment.

Mr. Ban voiced concern that some differences of opinion are now surfacing in the AU and he said this was not "desirable... at this time in keeping and preserving the integrity and fundamental principle of democracy."

According to media reports, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos two weeks ago said the UN had misled the international community when it validated Mr. Ouattara's victory and he called for fresh elections.