Gbagbo forces regain ground in Ivory Coast’s Abidjan: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Forces loyal to beleaguered Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo have regained ground in Abidjan and fully control the upscale Plateau and Cocody areas, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said on Friday.

“There is still fighting going on but there is a stalemate,” Le Roy told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on the situation in the world’s top cocoa-growing nation.

Gbagbo has refused to cede power after a U.N.-certified election last year showed he lost to rival Alassane Ouattara. A human rights group on Friday accused forces for both sides of killing and abusing civilians.

Le Roy said Gbagbo’s forces, under attack by those of Ouattara, used a lull on Tuesday for peace talks as a ruse to reinforce their positions. The talks have so far led nowhere.

“We understand that since that time (the lull), the forces of Mr. Gbagbo … have regained terrain and they have full control of the Plateau and Cocody area,” he said.

“He has reinforced his strength in Plateau and Cocody,” Le Roy said. “We have seen heavy weapons to be transferred to the Cocody area, including this morning.”

Le Roy said Gbagbo’s men still had heavy weapons, even though U.N. and French forces had destroyed some of them.

But Gbagbo’s adviser in Paris denied his forces had heavy arms.

“These are untruthful statements as the Ivory Coast army’s abilities were destroyed by French bombings earlier this week,” Toussaint Alain told Reuters. “France is just looking for a pretext to get rid of President Laurent Gbagbo.”

U.N. and French troops used attack helicopters this week to knock out heavy weapons used by Gbagbo’s forces after getting a green light from the Security Council last week.

RIGHTS ABUSES

Separately, Human Rights Watch issued a report on Friday saying forces loyal to Ouattara killed hundreds of civilians, raped more than 20 suspected supporters of Gbagbo and burned at least 10 villages in the country’s far western region.

The rights group said Gbagbo’s forces killed more than 100 presumed Ouattara supporters as Ouattara’s forces advanced in their March campaign. It said that on taking power, Ouattara should open an impartial investigation into serious abuses by both sides and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

Le Roy said Gbagbo’s forces were edging closer to the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara has been holed up since the November 28 election.

He said the more than 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, known as UNOCI, and the French forces were evacuating diplomats and journalists trapped in Abidjan.

Le Roy said UNOCI had received requests from 23 embassies for evacuations, including the U.S., Indian, Chinese and South African diplomatic missions. UNOCI has been working for several days to carry out the evacuations, he said.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Gbagbo forces regain ground in Ivory Coast’s Abidjan: U.N.