(HN, April 10, 2011) - Efforts to neutralize Laurent Gbagbo encountered fierce resistance over the weekend as violence-plagued Ivory Coast plunged deeper in what appears to be a protracted crisis.
In the latest developments Sunday, Gbagbo demonstrated he is still able to resist efforts to remove him from the heavily fortified bunker located in the Presidential Palace in Abidjan - even as UN and French forces launch new military operations.
Moreover Gbagbo is still able to communicate with loyal forces - and appear on air to rally his supporters.
According to reliable sources in Abidjan, HUMNEWS has learned that Gbagbo is using a mobile transmitter - in the form of two mobile vans supplied by the UN mission, also known as ONUCI. The former UN chief in Ivory Coast is understood to have supplied the vans seven years ago.
More than one million people are estimated to be displaced within the country and over 100,000 others have fled to Liberia for safety. The increasing pressure on weaker neighbouring countries and cash-strapped aid agencies is beginning to take its toll.
Observers say forces loyal to Gbagbo have taken advantage of a lull in fighting brought about by cease-fire talks last week to re-group and launch fresh assaults. This weekend the UN forces launched another assault on Gbagbo, alongside Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI), after the ostracized strong man tried to launch an assault on the Golf Hotel, the base of the newly elected and internationally recognised leader, Alassane Ouattara.
"They are not quite finished , but he (Gbagbo) will have absolutely no capacity in the morning," one well-placed source in Abidjan told HUMNEWS.
An indication of the spreading violence is the number of corpses that are being found in Abidjan - where some of the worst fighting has taken place - and other cities. The UN has reportedly found 60 bodies in one incident and 40 in another - some of them burned alive. There are also reports of mass graves being found, and of innocent civilians being raped and abused.
International observers and others suggest that forces loyal to Outtara are under suspicion of carrying out some of the murders, as well as those of his opponent, Gbagbo. The latter is hiding out in an underground bunker in the heavily-damaged Presidential Palace. Over the weekend, his men have managed to re-capture new ground in Abidjan.
Charles Ble Goude, Laurent Gbagbo's fiery youth minister, is said to be hiding in the Angolan Embassy. Angola is believed to be Gbagbo's last major ally.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned Gbagbo of severe consequences if he continues to defy demands to surrender: "This is his last opportunity to gracefully exit from this. It is absolutely necessary at this time, that before too late, he has to cede his power to a democratically elected leader."
Ban also said the international community "will continue to protect the innocent civilians and we will try to bring those who commit mass atrocities to justice."
Addressing the need to use heavy weaponry against Gbagbo forces, Ban said today: "I am particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation across the country and about human rights abuses. Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. The fighting must stop. Mr. Gbagbo needs to step aside immediately."
Meanwhile, health care, sanitation and other vital services have virtually collapsed while food and water supplies are shrinking. The UN warned today that supplies of clean water in the commercial capital of Abidjan would run out Sunday.
Moreover, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said civilians in Ivory Coast are "at grave risk as targeted political and sexual assaults increase, tension escalates and an already massive humanitarian crisis worsens."
One former western diplomat based in Abidjan told HUMNEWS that even if Gbagbo is captured quickly, tensions have progressed to the point where the country could be plunged into a protracted civil war.
“What we have now in Ivory Coast is an explosive mix of political, economic and ethnic tension that’s boiling over into incidents like the killings in Duékoué,” says Louis Falcy, the IRC’s country director in Ivory Coast. “Even if the political and military showdown in Abidjan ends today, we’re concerned that looting, hostility, bloodshed, reprisal killings and sexual assaults will escalate in communities across the country.”
Separately, sources close to HUMNEWS said western diplomats have reported concerns about Gbagbo, an evangelical Christian, being under some sort of mystical hold that he must remain waiting for a sign from God.
In the US, several key evangelical leaders - including Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe, an evangelical Christian with close links to the Gbagbo regime - have been openly voicing support for Gbagbo, claiming that he was the rightful victor of the November election and billing him as a Christian bulwark against the spread of Islam, according to The Guardian newspaper in the UK.