(Video of Gbagbo's arrest on Ivory Coast TV)
(HN, 4/11/11) -- UPDATED 2030GMT The legally elected leader of the Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara today prevailed over his rival, entrenched former President Laurent Gbagbo who refused to leave power or admit defeat since November’s Presidential election.
The recalcitrant strong man was finally taken into custody in a joint mission by French troops and Ouattara’s forces, after months of brutal violence in the West Africa coastal nation. United Nations forces assisted by using heavy fire to knock out weapons and ammunition controlled by forces loyal to Gbagbo.
Gbagbo is being detained at the Presidential palace with his wife Simone and his son Michael, after a week long standoff which saw the former head of state retreat to the bunker located underneath the house. He was later taken to the Golf Hotel, which Mr. Ouattara has been using as his temporary government headquarters and armed camp along with his forces and UN peacekeepers.
Sources told HUMNEWS UN police are present to protect Gbagbo at the request of President-elect Outtara.
On a brief appearance this evening on pro-Outtara television, a weary Gbagbo called for a cessation in hostilities.
The capitol of the country, Abidjan where Mr. Gbagbo was arrested, is still partly controlled by Gbagbo forces and includes most of the downtown business districts.
It is believed that fighting may continue for several days as forces loyal to both sides remain entrenched. A reliable source told HUMNEWS that the Canadian ambassador’s residence was sacked and pillaged along with some other residences of Canadian diplomats.
The cocoa-rich nation has been experiencing a debilitating humanitarian crisis in the wake of conflict since the election took place last year. Food has become scarce and expensive; mass graves have been found and more than 1 million people are thought to be displaced in the country and over 100,000 others have fled to Liberia for safety. There are many corpses still in the streets.
The UN is warning of a potential threat of cholera in the violence ravaged capital and the resource pressures on weaker neighbouring countries and cash-strapped aid agencies is beginning to take its toll.
The ICRC has tried to pick up a few dead bodies, but the security situation has not allowed for a large-scale operation. The lack of a secure humanitarian corridor significantly limits the humanitarian operations in Abidjan. Outside Abidjan, humanitarian work progresses.
Once things settle. Ouattara is expected to receive "enormous help of the international community for reconstruction," according to a western diplomatic cable shared with HUMNEWS. The United States and the European Union have already indicated they would extend significant assistance.
It is unclear what will happen now to Gbagbo, who has held power since 2000 – whether he will be allowed to stay in the country, allowed to leave on his own accord, or possibly be held for potential crimes either by his own nation or by the international community. Sources indicated that he will be moved to another location in Ivory Coast.
UNOCI is reportedly receiving many offers of surrender from Gbagbo generals; hundreds of his troops have surrendered in the run-up to today's dramatic capture. UNOCI trying to manage these surrenders and focus on re-establishing security.
Analysts say that in order for stability to return, Outtara needs to reach out quickly to Gbagbo supporters. More than 40 percent of Ivorian voters cast ballots for Gbagbo's in last year's troubled elections.
(In a statement released today, US President Barack Obama hinted at the long road ahead: ""For President Ouattara and the people of Côte d'Ivoire, the hard work of reconciliation and rebuilding must begin now. President Ouattara will need to govern on behalf of all the people of Côte d'Ivoire, including those who did not vote for him. All militia groups should lay down their weapons and recognize an inclusive military that protects all citizens under the authority of President Ouattara.")
The UN Security Council met in closed consultations this morning to discuss the significant developments in Ivory Coast. Undersecretary General LeRoy briefed members on the operations conducted by UNOCI and France on Sunday and Monday; and on the arrest of Gbagbo.
According to information shared with HUMNEWS, some members of the Council, in particular Russia and South Africa, suggested "more time should have been give for the political track." It is understood there was no specific criticism of UNOCI or France for their implementation of Security Council mandates.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court at The Hague has begun a preliminary investigation to see if crimes committed are serious enough to come under its jurisdiction.
Human Rights Watch has accused both sides of committing massacres during the violence and hundreds have been killed or raped in the western Cote d’Ivoire town of Duekoue.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said the French leader had a telephone call with Alassane Ouattara shortly after Gbagbo was arrested. Ouattara is a former deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, whose forces were working closely with French troops for weeks.
The deep involvement of French forces in recent days has stirred controversy, especially since almost have of the country's voting-age population supports Gbagbo and after reports emerged that Outtara forces were also behind some of the atrocities committed in recent days.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said on Monday that the new government of Ivory Coast of Ouattara is one he will support, and UN Peacekeepers, rebels and French troops worked together since an attack by forces loyal to Gbagbo on a UN installation on Saturday. On Sunday, UN and French helicopters retaliated on forces loyal to Gbagbo twice to stop them from firing on civilians in the capital city of Abidjan.
Ban said he personally ordered the bombardment to take out heavy weapons being used to fire on the hotel headquarters of Ouattara. "This is an end of a chapter that should never have been," Ban said. "We have to help them to restore stability, rule of law, and address all humanitarian and security issues."
The UN Security Council will be briefed on the human rights and humanitarian situation on Wednesday.
- HUMNEWS staff