(HN, April 7 2011) - Foreign governments scrambled to evacuate the last of their nationals and diplomats from civil war-torn Abidjan today amid violence triggered by attempts to flush out a recalcitrant incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo.
According to communications from Abidjan shared with HUMNEWS, Canadian and French diplomats and others were ordered to evacuate today as violence surge in and around the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
A sense of chaos and fear has taken over. One source told HUMNEWS the Canadian Embassy had only 15 minutes to evacuate. A Canadian convoy that left the Novotel Hotel to an undisclosed safe haven is said to have included not only Canadians, but several French and other nationalities as well.
Most embassies in Abidjan have only skeleton staff after non-essential staff were ordered to leave several weeks ago.
Late yesterday, French forces had to rescue the Japanese ambassador near the presidential palace after Liberian mercenaries from that spot took over his residence to use it as a location for firing - and in the process - pillaged it.
As reported by Abidjan.net in French, last night two jeep loads of soldiers from Gbagbo’s palace tried to enter the next door French ambassador’s residence. French helicopters immediately destroyed them.
The rush to evacuate diplomats - even as Gbagbo appears near defeat - suggests that a protracted civil war could take hold, said one former western diplomat based in Abidjan.
"What is happening now tells me that even if Gbagbo dies, the situation with - so many armed groups - is such that security will be impossible to provide," said the source.
According to the Voice of America, forces loyal to Gbagbo held off fighters backing the internationally-recognized President Alassane Ouattara late Thursday, supported by heavy weapons inside the presidential compound. About 200 troops are defending the compound, where Gbgabo is holding out in a bunker, refusing to acknowledge that he lost November's presidential election, VOA said.
Royal Air Maroc, Air France and military aircraft may be mobilized to evacuate the entire foreign community. French forces took control of Abidjan International Airport several days ago however with the shelling it is not clear whether commercial airlines will want to take the risk to land in Abidjan.
The battle for control of Abidjan is in its seventh day. About one million people have been displaced in Abidjan alone so far.
- HUMNEWS staff