The ambassador to the UN of the internationally recognized winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election says the country is on "the brink of genocide." The incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, continues to refuse to cede power.
Gbagbo and Ouattara are locked in a post-election standoff
Ivory Coast's new ambassador to the United Nations has warned that the power struggle in the West African country is pushing it "to the brink of genocide."
Youssoufou Bamba made the statement after handing over his diplomatic credentials to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday. Bamba is the first diplomatic envoy of Alassane Ouattara, who has been internationally recognized as the winner of presidential elections held last month.
The incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to step aside, defying calls by regional leaders to leave or be removed by force.
The dispute has boiled over into violent clashes, and almost 200 people are reported to have been killed.
The victims were only killed "because they wanted to demonstrate, they want to speak out, they want to defend the will of the people," Bamba told reporters. "We are on the brink of genocide, something should be done."
Bamba said homes in some areas of Ivory Coast had been marked according to their tribe. "What will be next? So the situation is very serious and I have put that message across in all the meetings I have had, including with the [UN] secretary-general."
"The protection of civilians is at the heart of peacekeeping and we expect the United Nations to fulfill its duties," he said.
UN continues Ouattara support
UN forces have been on patrol around the Ivorian capital
Allan Leroy, who heads the UN Mission in Ivory Coast, said the warnings should be taken seriously.
"All the forces loyal to him (Gbagbo) should stop immediately provocation, instigating violence [and] violations of human rights. We have a mandate to fulfill and we will fulfill that mandate," he said.
The UN has more than 9,500 troops in Ivory Coast, 800 of which are deployed around the hotel in the capital, Abidjan, where Ouattara is based.
Bamba's comments came after the leaders of Sierra Leone, Benin and Cape Verde met with Gbagbo on Tuesday to deliver an ultimatum from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which threatened military action unless he steps down.
The three delegates have since said they planned to return to Ivory Coast for further meetings next week.
The validity of Gbagbo's claim to the presidency took another hit on Wednesday, when the French Foreign Ministry announced that European Union nations would recognize only representatives appointed by his rival, Alassane Ouattara.
The decision was reached among EU heads of state meeting in Brussels, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Author: Darren Mara (AFP, AP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold