Artillery hit the residence of France’s ambassador to Ivory Coast for the second time in two days, the French embassy said, a possible show of defiance from the country’s strongman who has resisted international pressure to emerge from a bunker and cede power.
The embassy said in a statement Friday that the residence was hit by two mortars and a rocket fired from positions held by forces supporting strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who is holed up in a bunker at his residence next door to the French compound. The statement did not say if there were casualties.
The statement also noted that a U.N. Security Council resolution would permit them to destroy the weapons used to target the French compound.
Mr. Gbagbo has for days resisted military and diplomatic pressure to emerge and step down. Forces first attempted to bomb him out. When that failed, they tried a ground assault on the bunker. On Friday, internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara imposed a blockade Friday around Gbagbo’s presidential residence, and said he’ll focus on normalizing life in the corpse-strewn, terrorized city.
As the military standoff dragged on in Abidjan, there were new concerns Friday about tensions erupting into deadly violence in the country’s west. The U.N. said more than 100 bodies have been found in the last 24 hours, and some of the victims had been burned alive.
“All the incidents appear at least partly ethnically motivated,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
The International Rescue Committee is warning that chaos is permeating this West African nation once split in two by a 2002-2003 civil war.
“We’re concerned that looting, hostility, bloodshed, reprisal killings and sexual assaults will escalate in communities across the country,” said Louis Falcy, the IRC’s country director in Ivory Coast.
Mr. Ouattara, who was internationally recognized as having won November’s poll, said on TV late Thursday that his forces are setting up a perimeter around the presidential compound where Gbagbo is staying with his family. Mr. Ouattara said the goal is to wait for Mr. Gbagbo to run out of food and water.
Mr. Ouattara said his troops will work to secure Abidjan, where people have hidden inside their homes this week amid heavy fighting between troops loyal to Mr. Ouattara and those who are with Mr. Gbagbo. The streets of Ivory Coast’s biggest city and commercial centre were deserted on Friday. Military vehicles had to negotiate around bodies lying in the streets. An untold number of fighters and civilians have been killed in Abidjan in the past week.
“It is the stubbornness of the outgoing president that has plunged the city of Abidjan into this grave humanitarian and security crisis,” Mr. Ouattara said.
U.N. and French forces have been attacking Mr. Gbagbo’s weapons arsenal, which has been used against civilians during the four-month-long political standoff.
In his speech, Mr. Ouattara also sought to jump-start the economy of the world’s largest cocoa producer, calling for banks to reopen Monday and for the European Union to lift sanctions so that cocoa exports can resume, even as U.N. and French forces continue evacuating thousands of foreigners from Abidjan neighborhoods to guarded camps.
The U.N. said peacekeepers and human rights officials discovered about 60 bodies in the western town of Guiglo. Colville, the U.N. human rights agency spokesman, said another 40 corpses were found lying the street in Blolequin, and many of them had been shot. Fifteen other bodies were found in Duekoue, where violence already has left at least 229 dead in recent weeks.
Colville said mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia appear to have committed some of the killings. Liberia is still recovering from its own devastating civil war and human rights groups have expressed concern that Liberian ex-combatants were going to Ivory Coast as hired guns.
On Thursday, Mr. Gbagbo continued to insist he’d won the elections and stressed he would never leave the West African country he has ruled for the past 10 years. Even before the November elections, he had overstayed his mandate by five years by continually postponing the vote.
Mr. Gbagbo was declared the loser both by his country’s electoral body and by international observers including the United Nations. After four months of diplomacy, Mr. Ouattara gave the go-ahead for a military intervention led by fighters from a former rebel group. U.N. and French forces joined the effort this week.
Mr. Ouattara’s forces has stopped short of trying to kill the entrenched leader, a move that could stoke the rage of his supporters. Some 46 percent of Ivorians voted for Mr. Gbagbo.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet estimates that Mr. Gbagbo has some 1,000 troops, compared to the 2,000-strong force that has been fighting to install Ouattara.
Meanwhile, French troops began evacuating foreigners en masse on Thursday, picking up an estimated 1,000 people in armoured personnel carriers.
They almost came too late for Claude Bertrand, a French businesswoman in her 70s.
She said she peeked through her curtains and saw at least 3,000 men attempting to climb the walls of her apartment building. They banged down the door of her apartment, swarmed her living room and shoved her against the wall while holding a gun to her head.
She said she tried to avoid making eye contact with them, staring at the floor as they ripped off her necklace and bracelet, leaving purple marks on her arms. They yanked off her wedding ring. Then they carried out her fridge, her air conditioner and her furniture before French troops came in, shooting in the air. She managed to grab a pair of reading glasses from her desk as the troops scooped her up and ran.
Bertrand said she came to Ivory Coast 66 years ago, met her husband and stayed.
“I don’t yet know if I can go on living here,” she said Friday, from inside a French military base. “But it’s difficult for me to leave, because it would be as if I had lost 50 years of my life.”