Ivory Coast suffers security vacuum, dwindling humanitarian supplies

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged support Monday to Ivory Coast, where U.N. officials say police have fled and water, food and medicine is desperately needed after fighting that culminated in former president Laurent Gbagbo’s capture.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged support Monday to Ivory Coast, where U.N. officials say police have fled and water, food and medicine is desperately needed after fighting that culminated in former president Laurent Gbagbo’s capture.

With Gbagbo in custody after months of refusing to hand power to the winner of November elections, a top U.N. human rights official expressed concern Monday about a security vacuum that has led to ongoing looting, rapes and murders.

“This is an end of a chapter that should never have been,” Ban said in his first public response to Gbagbo’s surrender. “We have to help them to restore stability, rule of law, and address all humanitarian and security issues.”

Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters that teams from his office had seen the bodies of around 400 people even before the wave of weekend violence that culminated in Gbagbo’s Monday arrest.

The U.N. rights official says he discussed the importance of filling the security vacuum with internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara and his ministers during a visit to the country last week.

Ouattara has called the police to return to their posts, on all Ivorians to refrain from political retaliation, and announced severe punishment for those who retaliate, Simonovic said.

He said Ouattara seemed “very much interested” in the High Commissioner’s support for a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the roots of the conflict.

“I think it is essential to break the cycle of impunity and retaliation taking part historically in this country,” Simonovic said. “If after the conflict in 2002 we had established truth and accountability, perhaps we would have prevented what has happened now.”

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy agreed that Gbagbo’s surrender did not end the crisis, but called it “an important step” toward halting the violence.

After briefing the Security Council on the developments in Ivory Coast, Le Roy emphasized to reporters that Gbagbo’s arrest was handled by forces loyal to Ouattara and that U.N. peacekeepers and French forces were not involved.

Ban said Gbagbo’s “physical safety should be ensured and I’m going to urge that.”

“We need to think about what his future should be,” Ban added, staying that’s up to Ouattara and his government.

Le Roy said Gbagbo and his wife have requested and received U.N. protection. He said they are staying in the same hotel where Ouattara did during the months-long post-electoral stalemate, and said U.N. police officers are now protecting the couple just as they had protected Ouattara.

The U.N. envoy for Ouattara’s government told reporters that Gbagbo will face justice for crimes committed during the standoff. The former president “is well and alive and will be brought to justice,” Ambassador Youssoufou Bamba said.

“The nightmare is over for the people of Ivory Coast,” said Bamba. “The news will spread, they will stop fighting. They will lay down their weapons.”

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