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Illegal arms deal

February 28, 2011

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has accused Belarus of selling attack helicopters to forces supporting the self-proclaimed president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, who is clinging to power after disputed elections.

People walk past the burned-out shell of a police truck in Ivory Coast
Violent clashes continue in Ivory CoastImage: dapd

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the Security Council to convene an urgent meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Ivory Coast, after reports emerged that Belarus had broken an arms embargo to the conflict zone.

Ban's spokesman said Monday that there had been reports that Belarus illegally sold three attack helicopters to forces loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, who has so far refused to step down following November's presidential elections. One delivery was said to have arrived on Sunday evening, with two more scheduled for Monday.

"This is in serious violation of the embargo against Ivory Coast, which has been in place since 2004," Ban's spokesman said.

Ivory Coast edging closer to civil war: Ban

"The secretary-general demands full compliance with the arms embargo and warns both the supplier of this military equipment and Mr. Gbagbo that appropriate action will be taken in response to the violation."

people walking through street in Abidjan
Civilians fleeing the violence in the capital AbidjanImage: dapd

Since the disputed election, Ivory Coast has been gripped by unrest, with backers of rival claimants Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara regularly clashing in the streets. Much of the international community recognizes Ouattara as the winner of the presidential election.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe's last dictator, is himself accused by the international community of rigging a presidential election last year. He's currently serving his fourth term and has been in power since 1994.

Last week Ban warned that Ivory Coast was edging ever nearer to civil war.

"The allegations are serious - if the helicopters arrive, they could change the situation, giving air superiority to Gbagbo 's forces," Alex Vines, a former arms inspector in Belarus and an expert on Africa in the British think-tank Chatham House, told Deutsche Welle.

Serious escalation of the crisis

"These MI-24 helicopters can be very devastating to the civilian population, very indiscriminate and frightening," Vines said, adding that the current figure of 300 casualties in the Ivorian crisis could quickly be trebled if helicopters were to be used.

"They are very fast, very manoeuvrable, and they carry multiple weapons systems, including machine guns and rockets."

Providing the helicopters does not appear to pose major problems. Vine said the helicopters were dismantled, put on cargo planes, delivered and reassembled. Unless the UN had good prior intelligence, he added, "it's often that UN sanctions inspectors only find out after the event and are documenting sanctions failure rather than being a deterrent."

Author: Holly Fox (AFP, dapd)
Editor: Andreas Illmer