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UN forces flee Ivory Coast neighbourhood

11 January 2011, 15:32

Abidjan – The United Nations peacekeepers retreated from a neighbourhood where security forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo had opened fire Tuesday, turning around at least nine UN vehicles after dozens of angry young men built a blockade out of a table and sticks.

Peacekeepers patrolling the streets of Abidjan have come under growing threat as tensions escalate over the November 28 election. One UN peacekeeper was wounded with a machete last month when a crowd in a pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood attacked a convoy and set a UN vehicle on fire.

Gbagbo, who refuses to leave office despite mounting international condemnation and a possible regional military ouster, has accused the UN of bias since it endorsed results from the electoral commission that declared Alassane Ouattara the winner.

Gbagbo maintains control of the country's military, and human rights groups accuse his security forces of abducting and killing hundreds of political opponents since the vote.

On Tuesday, military trucks descended upon a neighbourhood known as PK 18 hours after residents there described killing two police officers who were conducting raids in the area. The district overwhelmingly voted for Gbagbo's rival in the election.

Marco Boubacar, head of the New Forces rebels who are allied to Ouattara, said people attacked the police officers with their bare hands.

"We were able to take down two men in uniform," he said.

Inciting violence

The two deaths could not be independently confirmed, but other witnesses said they also had seen the police officers' bodies.

The area is not far from the site where Charles Ble Goude, the leader of a pro-Gbagbo youth group, is expected to hold a rally Tuesday afternoon. Some describe the hardline Young Patriots as an armed militia.

Goude, who was placed on a United Nations sanctions list in 2006 for his role in inciting violence, has been leading daily rallies, gathering thousands of pro-Gbagbo youth to warn that there will be no peace if Gbagbo is forced out.

"They shouldn't kid themselves and imagine that they can come and remove (Gbagbo) like some sort of orphan ... Because in every Ivorian there is a Gbagbo," Goude told The Associated Press in a sit-down interview on Monday. "Do they want to govern an Ivory Coast cemetery?"

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the UN refugee agency said 25 000 Ivorian civilians have now fled to neighbouring Liberia since the disputed election. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said 600 more refugees are arriving in Liberia daily.

Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that the United Nations is setting up a refugee camp for 18 000 people in the eastern Liberian town of Bahn.

- AP


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