Liberia closes Ivorian frontier after peacekeeper deaths | News | DW | 09.06.2012
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Liberia closes Ivorian frontier after peacekeeper deaths

Liberia has closed its border with Ivory Coast after the killing of seven UN peacekeepers from Niger. Abidjan has vowed to find the perpetrators of the attack, the worst since the UN deployed to Ivory Coast in 2004.

Liberia closed its border with Ivory Coast on Saturday, after seven UN peacekeepers were killed in an ambush near the two countries' frontier.

At least eight civilians were also killed in Friday's attack, accordng to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The UN peacekeepers from Niger had been responding to reports of gunmen moving into civilian areas near the town of Tai, located in Ivory Coast's southwest not far from the Liberian border.

The acting spokeswoman for the UN mission in Ivory Coast, Sylvie van den Wildenberg, told the Associated Press that the peacekeepers were on a reconnaissance patrol in a convoy when they were ambushed.

"This is the first time we have ever had such a type of attack in Ivory Coast," Van den Wildenberg said. "It's a very tough time for the whole mission here right now"

HRW suspects Gbagbo loyalists

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Wednesday claiming that armed militias loyal to former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo were using Liberia as a staging ground to launch cross border raids. The militias have launched four such raids since June 2011, resulting in the deaths of 40 civilians, according to HRW.

The New York-based rights group criticized Liberia for not doing enough to stop the militias, which are also accused of recruiting child soldiers as young as 14. Although the group responsible for Friday's ambush of UN peacekeepers remains unclear, Liberia announced that it had shut down its border.

"The Liberian government has decided the immediate closure of its border with Ivory Coast," Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told a press conference in the capital, Monrovia, on Saturday.

Ivory Coast vows to find perpetrators

The Ivorian deputy defense minister, Paul Koffi Koffi, said on Saturday that the government was coordinating an operation with Liberian and UN forces to find the people responsible for the attack, describing them as "militiamen or mercenaries."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who condemned the attack on Friday, said that peacekeepers in the region remained in danger.

"Their colleagues are still in danger," Ban told reporters in New York. "Even tonight, after the attack, more than 40 peacekeepers remain with the villagers to protect them from this armed group."

The UN mission in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) has been operating in the francophone West African nation since 2004. Some 40 nations contribute to the 10,000-strong mission.

Ivory Coast was plunged into turmoil after Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede a November 2010 president election that he lost to opponent Alassane Ouattara. Six months of violence ensued in which some 3,000 people died. Gbagbo was eventually ousted with the help of UN and French forces in April 2011. He is now awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on war crimes charges.

slk/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)