France on Wednesday urged its citizens to leave Ivory Coast after the U.N. chief warned the former French colony in West Africa faces “a real risk” of return to civil war following the disputed elections.
The country’s deadly political stand-off escalated Wednesday after a defiant Laurent Gbagbo insisted he is the one true president and his rivals refused to talk with him.
The U.N. and other world leaders recognize Alassane Ouattara as the election winner. Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent who refuses to concede defeat after the Nov. 28 runoff vote, said late Tuesday in a televised speech that “the international community has declared war on Ivory Coast.”
Over the weekend, he ordered all U.N. peacekeepers out of the country immediately.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meantime expressed concern for the fate of the peacekeepers protecting Gbagbo’s opponent Alassane Ouattara, who is barricaded in a golf resort hotel on the outskirts of the capital Abidjan.
Hundreds of U.N. troops are protecting Ouattara’s hotel, but they are encircled by forces loyal to Gbagbo.
Gbagbo said late Tuesday that people could leave the Golf Hotel, but Ouattara’s people say they’re still not being allowed out. The U.N. has said delivery of food and water to the building had been hampered.
“Any attempt to starve the United Nations mission into submission will not be tolerated,” Ban said Tuesday.
Over the weekend, masked gunmen opened fire on the U.N. base in Ivory Coast. Although no one was harmed in the attack, two military observers were wounded in another attack. The U.N. also says armed men have been intimidating U.N. staff in their homes.
Gbagbo on Tuesday invited an international committee to re-examine the results of the election, but Ouattara on Wednesday dismissed the offer as a political “game.”
Gbagbo said the committee could be headed by the African Union and also involve the West African organization ECOWAS, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, Russia and China, all of whom have recognized Ouattara as winner.
But a spokesman for Ouattara’s rival government, told Reuters Africa: “We’ve finished with these games… For the past five years, he tried maneuvers to postpone the elections. Finally, we got there, he lost and he doesn’t want to give up power. We don’t think he’s changed one bit.”
Diplomats also said the offer to submit to an international investigation was a delaying tactic, according to Reuters Africa.
Gbagbo, who has been in power since a disputed election in 2000 and who survived an attempted coup in 2002 that triggered the war, has refused to step down despite international pressure and sanctions backed by world leaders.
The U.N. says more than 50 people have been killed in recent days in Ivory Coast, and that it has received hundreds of reports of people — mainly Ouattara supporters — being abducted from their homes at night by armed assailants in military uniforms. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has cited growing evidence of “massive violations of human rights.”
About 13,000 French people are currently believed to be in Ivory Coast, which maintains close ties to France and was once the crown jewel of its former West African colonial empire. A French government spokesman, citing “undeniable sources of worry,” told reporters Wednesday that France recommends that its citizens leave Ivory Coast temporarily.