Cote d’Ivoire: the war nobody’s talking about

With the world’s attention riveted by the violence in Libya, Yemen and Syria, another deadly conflict is going almost completely unnoticed, and in the U.S., it’s not been noticed at all.

The background of the uprising there is familiar, but the scale is enornous:

Cote d’Ivoire faces a humanitarian tragedy, with aid access becoming increasingly difficult, hospitals and schools closing, law and order collapsing and casualties mounting, France’s representative to the United Nations said on Friday.

The crisis has displaced up to a million people, according to the UN refugee agency. Some 90,000 people have fled to neighboring Liberia.

“We are very close to a civil war in Abidjan,” France’s envoy to the UN, Gérard Araud, told reporters as the Security Council began considering a draft resolution on Cote d’Ivoire presented by France and Nigeria.

Araud said the resolution calls for the departure of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, for an end to violence against civilians – especially the use of heavy weapons in Abidjan – and for sanctions against Gbagbo and his inner circle. Sanctions would particularly target five Gbagbo allies, although Araud did not give their names.

Additionally, he said, the resolution notes the existence of the International Criminal Court and the High Commissioner on Human Rights to drive home the point that the international community is “not going to forget what [Gbagbo and his allies] are doing.”

…Except that the international community is forgetting. In fact, at least in the U.S., we don’t seem to be paying any attention.

The U.N. is already in Cote d’Ivoire, with what seems to be a singularly ineffective force. At issue is the recent presidential election, which Gbagbo lost to Alassane Ouattara, though he refuses to step down.

The latest from Al Jazeera:

Internationally recognised president of Cote d’Ivoire Alassane Ouattara has rejected the African Union’s choice to mediate the crisis, citing the envoy’s “personal relations” with his rival Laurent Gbagbo.

The African Union (AU) on Saturday named Cape Verde’s former foreign minister Jose Brito as its representative to Cote d’Ivoire to mediate an end to the crisis pushing the country towards civil war.

But in a statement Ouattara said he “deeply regrets not having been consulted, nor having been approached” about the decision.

He “expressed surprise” about the selection of Brito “given his personal relationship and his political connection, known to everyone in Cote d’Ivoire, with the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.

“Moreover, this decision does not conform to the expressed will to appoint a former head of state in this function,” his statement added.

“Consequently, the Presidency of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire rejects Jose Brito as the AU high representative.”

Political stalemate

The AU charged Brito with working towards talks between the two rival camps so propositions endorsed by the AU in Addis Ababa on March 10 could be implemented, an AU statement said.

Earlier this month, the African Union endorsed the conclusions of a panel of five African heads of state.
They recognised Ouattara as the legitimate winner of November elections against his rival, but asked him to put in place an inclusive government and help find a “graceful exit” for his rival.

But the Gbagbo camp quickly rejected the AU’s proposals as “unacceptable”.

And that has led to this:

Up to one million people have fled Ivory Coast to safer areas amid fears of an all-out civil war, the UN refugee agency has said.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other aid agencies said they have been unable to access the country’s west due to the fighting in the capital and other areas.

It cited estimates of between 700,000 and one million people displaced, largely from the city of Abidjan, including the heavily-populated districts of Abobo, Adjamame, Williamsville and Yopougon.

“The massive displacement in Abidjan and elsewhere is being fuelled by fears of all-out war,” Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on Friday said in Geneva.

She said the closure of banks and businesses is also causing economic chaos in the West African country, with rising unemployment and food prices.

Just over a week ago the UNHCR put the number of displaced in Ivory Coast at around half a million, Fleming said, adding that the latest estimates were made by the agency’s own staff on the ground.

The UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned that the situation in the rural west of Ivory Coast was uncertain, with fighting going on in the area.

Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, a UNHCR spokeswoman for Africa, said new pockets of displaced people were being found inside Abidjan daily, although many appeared to be fleeing to the north, centre and east of Ivory Coast.

“It’s our best estimate,” she told AFP. “Those leaving Abidjan are many more than those staying.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) revealed on Friday that it was setting up aid for just 3,000 people found in the western town of Toulepleu during an evaluation mission about a week ago.

The town normally has 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, but most had fled nearby or into Liberia, the agency said.

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2 Responses to Cote d’Ivoire: the war nobody’s talking about

  1. I have been thinking and talking about just this as we began to intervene in Libya. Shared your article with others with whom I had discussed the Ivory Coast and Libya as well.

  2. Anna Luc says:

    Thanks for your great reporting. Let us hope that the 4-minute video statement solely and specifically on the situation in the Ivory Coast issued by POTUS on Friday will help focus more attention there. Here is the link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2011/03/25/president-obama-speaks-people-cote-divoire

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