Is Ivory Coast heading to civil war? It certainly seems that way.
The U.S. State Department is hoping President Laurent Gbagbo will be forced to step down without renewed fighting. It says efforts to force the incumbent from power are working—international actions to restrict funds means Gbagbo is running out of cash and may not have the money to pay members of the country’s security forces and other government workers.
But Gbagbo does not intend to leave. He insists last November’s election was fraudulent and he is the constitutionally designated president--sworn in (as required by law) by the Constitutional Council. Gbagbo’s supporters believe France, the United Nations, and other Western countries are plotting against the president because rebel leader Alassane Quatarra will give them more favorable trade deals.
A French arms shipment to Quatarra and his rebel forces was recently discovered by customs agents in Cameroon. They had been told the containers were humanitarian supplies—mostly medicine for needy Ivorians. It appears the French are now attempting to arm the rebels for a return to civil war.
Meanwhile, the United Nations condemned a mortar attack on an Abidjan marketplace last week that killed at least 25 people and wounded 40. The U.N. blamed forces loyal to Gbagbo. President Gbagbo denied his supporters or forces were involved in the attack. When I met him last January, he told me the United Nations and rebel forces loyal to Alassane Quatarra launch attacks and then blame the nation’s security forces or Gbagbo supporters—all in an effort discredit his government and justify his forcible removal.
Nevertheless, violence is intensifying in Ivory Coast and the humanitarian crisis is likely to worsen.
The Reuters News Agency reports that Doctors Without Borders has treated hundreds of Ivorians with bullets wounds because many medical centers are closed and there are shortages of drugs and medical supplies.
Food and gas shortages are reported in some areas of the country and the United Nations Refugee Agency now says up to one million people have fled fighting in Abidjan alone. Residents fear a new civil war is beginning and they’re afraid of getting caught in the crossfire.
With wars continuing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now in Libya, and uprisings in Syria, Jordan and Yemen, few nations around the world may be willing to intervene in West Africa.
Created crisis or not, as conditions deteriorate in Ivory Coast and more innocent civilians die, the global community may have little choice but to take action.
View recent scenes from Abidjan—including the Adobo market shelling and food and gas shortages: