(HN, April 2, 2011) - A see-saw battle rages on in Ivory Coast, with forces loyal to embattled Laurent Gbagbo retaking control of key installations including state-run television, RTI.
In an indication of the spreading violence the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had documented the massacre of at least 800 people in the western town of Duekoue. However the Roman Catholic charity, Caritas, pegs the death toll at around 1,000.
Yesterday president-elect Alassane Ouattara’s forces advanced into the crucial economic capital of Abidjan and the United Nations mission took control of the country's main airport. The UN mission has also disabled Gbagbo`s Mi-24 helicopter after they gained control of airport.
As recently as yesterday, Gbabgbo looked close to defeat after key members of the military resigned and sought refuge in the South African embassy compound. Abidjan has a population of about 5 million people and, according to one estimate, some 20 percent of residents have fled.
For ordinary civilians and aid workers the situation has been described as extremely dangerous. Some of the worst fighting is taking place at the Presidential Palace and Presidential Residence in leafy Abidjan suburb of Cocody - where several embassies are also located.
Said Henry Gray, a field worker in Abidjan with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF): "It’s quite a hairy situation here at the moment. We’re hearing constant gunfire along with the occasional heavy detonation, and that’s been going on for a few days now. We had been moving around, visiting clinics and helping patients up until a few days ago. But the situation on the streets has deteriorated to such an extent that it’s just become too dangerous to go outside."
"There’s a lot of pillaging and looting going on" Gray continued, "and if you’re out on the streets, you’re basically a target. Armed gangs are out on the street and there is a real atmosphere of fear out in the community, particularly in the poorer areas."
One former western diplomat based in Abidjan described the situation to HUMNEWS as dire. "One (Ivorian) friend said they have been at home for days now with a child. Only water left in the house, nothing to eat."
Yesterday a Swedish UN employee was killed in the crossfire. According to a diplomatic source on teh ground who HUMNEWS has been speaking with, "there appears to be looting by thugs affiliated with both sides".
Meanwhile foreign governments, including Lebanon, are desperately trying to evacuate their nationals, according to the Daily Star of Beirut.
Lebanese businesswoman Line Fakih said Abidjan was unsafe for anyone not carrying arms. “The situation here is very dangerous, and we cannot leave our houses,” Fakih told The Daily Star in a telephone call Friday. “Looters and gangs are on the streets and they are breaking into houses to ask for money in return for [our] security.”
- HUMNEWS staff