The tense political standoff in the Ivory Coast has taken a turn for the tragic amid escalating fighting in recent days.
Yesterday, forces loyal to the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo opened fire on a crowd of women protesters, killing at least six people. That happened in the Adobo suburb of Abidjan, which is largely supportive of the internationally recognized victor of elections in December, Alassane Ouatarra. The UN reports that at least 200,000 people have fled that neighborhood in recent days. To put that in perspective, that is basically akin to the entire population of Yonkers, New York up and leaving.
What has so far been a “political standoff” is quickly escalating into a situation where people with guns who support Gbagbo (namely, the military) are shooting people without guns. Needless to say, this has the potential to turn into a very ugly and very desperate situation very soon.
UPDATE: The Security Council just released a press statement on the situation in Cote D’Ivoire:
“The members of the Security Council received a briefing on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire from DPKO, Under-Secretary-General, M. Alain Le Roy, on March 3rd.
The members of the Security Council remain deeply concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Côte d’Ivoire, especially Abidjan, following the reported attacks on Ivorian residents, including women. They are also deeply concerned about the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons caused by this violence. They express their concern about the risk of resurgence of civil war and urge all parties to show utmost restraint to prevent it and to resolve their differences peacefully. They condemn the threats, obstructions and acts of wanton violence perpetrated by FDSCI against UN personnel and violence by all parties against civilians. They further reiterate their longstanding urge that M. Laurent Gbagbo lift the siege of Golf Hotel without delay.
The members of the Security Council again express their full support to the Special Representative of the Secretary General in Côte d’Ivoire in the implementation of his mandate. In light of the prevailing high tension and conflict, they urge UNOCI, while impartially implementing its mandate, to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate, in particular to protect the civilians and to continue to monitor the continued compliance by all parties with the ceasefire agreement of 3 May 2003, in order to prevent the resumption of hostilities.
The members of the Security Council reiterate their support to the African Union and the Economic Community of Western African States in their efforts to solve the conflict and underscored their desire that the political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire be resolved peacefully. They support the efforts of the High-Level AU and look forward to receiving its conclusions. In this regard, the members of the Security Council call upon the Ivorian parties to allow the Panel and its members to complete their work without being subjected to threats or intimidation.
The members of the Security Council further condemn the restrictions placed on the exercise of the fundamental right of freedom of expression in Côte d’Ivoire, as illustrated by the attempts to disrupt the radio broadcasting of UNOCI FM, the use of RTI to incite hatred and violence, as well as acts of intimidation and violence against journalists.
The Members of the Security Council encourage UNOCI to monitor the implementation of arms embargo and to provide verified information about any possible violation of it. They further reiterate their readiness, based on this information, to impose measures, including targeted sanctions, against all those who threaten the peace process in that country, obstruct the work of UNOCI and other international actors, incite publicly hatred and violence and commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.