I.Coast's Ouattara urges army to turn on mercenaries
Abidjan (AFP) Dec 24, 2010
Ivory Coast's internationally-recognised leader Alassane Ouattara on Friday urged the army to desert his rival Laurent Gbagbo and to protect civilians against attacks by foreign fighters.
"As commander in chief, I order the Defence and Security Forces to carry out their republican mission of protecting the population against the militias and foreign mercenaries that are spilling Ivorian blood," he said.
Ouattara read the statement in the Golf Hotel, the luxury Abidjan resort where his shadow government is holed up, protected by 800 UN peacekeepers who are in turn blockaded by defiant strongman Gbagbo's security forces.
While Ouattara is recognised as winner of last month's Ivorian presidential election by the international community, Gbagbo has refused to hand over power, and the Defence and Security Forces (FDS) remain loyal to his regime.
Both Ouattara's camp and UN human rights monitors accuse Gbagbo's FDS of involvement in large-scale human rights abuses, and there have been reports of them working with masked militia fighters and Liberian mercenaries.
"Violence is returning to our towns and our city neighbourhoods. Serious human rights violations are reported from all corners," Ouattara said.
"Under cover of the curfew, people have been been kidnapped and executed by elements of the Republican Guard and the Cecos, backed by foreign mercenaries and militiamen," he said, in his first public statement this month.
While commanders of the entire 17,000-strong FDS have pledged loyalty to Gbagbo, his most feared support comes from two elite squads, the 1,500-strong Guards and the 2,000 members of the Cecos police special forces unit.
Several witnesses, including UN peacekeepers, have also reported that these troops have been seen with "masked individuals armed with rocket-launchers" and with "heavily-armed" English-speaking fighters, apparently from Liberia.
Ouattara said he had asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to send a team of investigators to Ivory Coast "in the coming days" in order to prosecute those responsible for the killings of recent days.
And he said he had written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to urge him to ensure that the UNOCI peacekeeping force does more to enforce its mandate to ensure the protection of civilians and free movement of citizens.
Ouattara and his government are unable to leave the Golf Hotel, and even senior UN figures can only travel there by helicopter, as it is surrounded by Gbagbo's forces, which control the only two access roads.
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