Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ivory Coast now a fire zone

I've been casting warnings about how this was likely to play out for a couple of weeks now... would have loved to have been wrong... but here we go. The fighting has started.
Former rebels loyal to would-be Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattara fought a fierce battle with troops backing his rival Laurent Gbagbo on Thursday, in an apparent bid to break a siege on their Abidjan base.

A heavy exchange of fire erupted at around 11.30am (1130 GMT) and several explosions were heard in the area around the Golf Hotel, Ouattara's waterfront base in the Ivory Coast commercial capital.
For those who forgot their scorecards, L. Gbagbo is the incumbent President of Côte d'Ivoire who apparently lost the election. A. Ouattara is the supposed winner... not that the government's election commission has owned up to that possibility (*correction*) the Election Commission has actually reported Ouattara won last month's run-off election by 54% to 46%, but then Gbagbo refused to admit defeat, and the Constitutional Council then annulled some results from the north and declared Mr Gbagbo the winner... and he (Ouattara) is closely allied with the New Forces former rebel movement leader Guillaume Soro. It was G. Soro' men that made the attempt against the Forces armées nationales de Côte d'Ivoire (FANCI; the National Army) encirclement, and pulled back after an hour and a half of trying.

You might ask "Where are the UNOCI (U.N. peacekeepers) in all this?"

...well, other than being the doughnut between Ouattara and company inside the Golf Hotel grounds and the National Army surrounding them, it isn't really clear. Rioting has broken out over much of the city of Abidjan, but that seems to be a "Chinese Biathlon" (the Army does the shooting; the demonstrators do the running. cf. Tian'anmen Square, 1989). So much for seeing to local order, and all that.

There is going to need to be a bit of re-enforcement required for UNOCI to be able to do much more than guard its bases if this continues to spiral out of control. That's going to mean not just more money (it is already budgeted at nearly US$500 million for this year to keep roughly 7,500 troops and 1,300 police in country)... it means that somebody with significant logistical and combat power is probably going to have to step in. I'm not at all sure that ECOWAS (West African community; Nigerian-led forces) can manage that.

That's another thing I'd love to wrong about, by the way.


More details on this from the BBC. (and the source of the *correction*, above)

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