Security Council beefs up UN force in Ivory Coast with 2,000 new peacekeepers

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to deploy 2,000 additional peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, where the incumbent president has refused to relinquish his post to the man internationally recognized as the West African country’s legitimate leader.

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to deploy 2,000 additional peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, where the incumbent president has refused to relinquish his post to the man internationally recognized as the West African country’s legitimate leader.

Ivory Coast has seen violence and increased tension since the disputed presidential election in November. The new U.N. troops, to be deployed through June, would bolster the world body’s peacekeeping force to nearly 12,000.

African Union envoy Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, said Wednesday that despite two days of meetings he has failed to persuade incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to relinquish the presidency to Alassane Ouattara.

Ouattara, declared the winner of the elections, has been unable to assume the presidency because Gbagbo refuses to leave office despite sanctions, multiple visits by African leaders and now the threat of a military ouster.

“I regret to announce that the breakthrough that was needed did not materialize,” Odinga said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.

Odinga said Gbagbo had broken several promises that he had made to lift a blockade put in place around the Abidjan hotel where Ouattara is confined.

“Mr. Gbagbo gave me an assurance that this blockade would be lifted yesterday, but he broke that promise — for the second time in two weeks,” Odinga said.

Swiss authorities, meanwhile, were moving to immediately freeze any assets belonging to Gbagbo, Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Wednesday. It was not immediately known how much money Gbagbo may have in Swiss bank accounts.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said peacekeepers face an “openly hostile security environment” with threats from forces loyal to Gbagbo. Attacks against the peacekeepers have been mounting. Last week six of their cars were destroyed by pro-Gbagbo mobs, who accuse the U.N. of bias, and of being part of “a foreign plot” to remove the leader.

The Security Council on Wednesday also extended the temporary deployment of 400 troops and 100 police officers from March 31 until June 30. It said three infantry companies and two utility helicopters from Liberia should remain in Ivory Coast for four more weeks, and authorized the transfer of three armed helicopters from Liberia to Ivory Coast for four weeks.

Pro-Gbagbo forces have been accused of targeting Ouattara’s supporters in the commercial hub of Abidjan, and supporters of both candidates have taken to the streets in protest. The United Nations has reported more than 200 deaths in postelection violence.

A West African bloc has threatened military intervention if Gbagbo does not step down.

“Time is running out for an amicably negotiated settlement,” Odinga said. “In addition, the window of any opportunity for any amnesty will continue to close if Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters continue to commit crimes against civilians and peacekeepers.”

Once a prosperous state, Ivory Coast has become a nation perpetually in crisis following the disputed 2000 election that brought Gbagbo to power. The country was plunged into civil war in 2002, and a presidential election initially scheduled for 2005 has been delayed every year since.

In a televised debate on the eve of the vote, Gbagbo vowed to respect the results issued by the country’s independent electoral commission. He changed his mind several days later when the commission announced that he had lost, and the U.N. certified Ouattara’s victory.

Odinga ran as the opposition candidate in Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential vote, which led to violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. He was later appointed prime minister as part of a power-sharing deal. On Wednesday, he said Ivory Coast could set a dangerous precedent for Africa.

“If the continent’s people came to believe that their votes were not what brought to power the leaders they wanted, elections would become meaningless and pave the way for unrest and instability throughout the continent,” he said.

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