The hopes that Laurent Gbagbo would go quietly from Ivory Coast after forces loyal to the Presidential rival Alassane Ouattara marched into the commercial capital of Abidjan have faded. Gbagbo issued a call to arms for his supporters, and Gbagbo’s loyalists retook the state television station and swarmed a bridge leading to the Presidential palace. The state TV station is now being used by Gbagbo to deliver instructions to the people to go into the streets and defend their embattled President. UN peacekeepers have been a particular target for attack; Gbagbo supporters fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a UN armored personnel carrier, injuring four people. The UN responded by evacuating all their staff from Abidjan. The French have taken over the airport in Abidjan and plan to send 300 additional troops to the country; state TV accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of “preparing a Rwandan genocide” in Ivory Coast. Gunfire is a constant companion to terrified civilians in Abidjan, who cannot leave their homes for basic supplies.
While some Ivorian security forces have switched sides and abandoned Gbagbo, the pro-Ouattara forces have yet to capture the Presidential palace, residence, or military barracks, and they lost the TV station. Gbagbo’s youth militia is in the streets and well-armed, and despite the defections Gbagbo still has the superior firepower. So the thought that Gbagbo will immediately step down, as Secretary of State Clinton called for today, seems remote.
Meanwhile, a massacre has been discovered in the west.
As rebels swept across Ivory Coast in a rapid advance last week to oust the nation’s strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, hundreds of people were killed in a single town, the United Nations and aid groups said Saturday, in the worst episode of violence during the four-month political crisis that has plunged the country back into civil war.
The exact number of dead was unclear. The United Nations said that 330 people had been killed, while aid organizations put the death toll as high as 1,000. It was also uncertain how many were civilians, and how many were combatants, but Caritas, a Catholic charity whose staff members visited the town, Duékoué, in western Ivory Coast, called it a “massacre.”
The “town was full of bodies,” said Patrick Nicholson, a spokesman for the charity. “They saw bodies in the city, in the bush, mass graves.”
Humanitarian workers did not say who was responsible. But the United Nations said that more than 100 had been killed by Mr. Gbagbo’s fighters, while about 200 had been killed by forces loyal to his rival, Alassane Ouattara, the man recognized by the United Nations, the African Union and other international bodies as the winner of the presidential election last year.
Ouattara denied responsibility for the attack, and blamed it on UN peacekeepers abandoning the town. But the UN said that “Dozos,” a sect of traditional hunters in the country, took part in the killings in Duékoué. And they responded to the charge from Ouattara by saying that their peacekeepers were mostly protecting 15,000 refugees at a Catholic mission. And they demanded that Ouattara undertake an investigation into the deaths.
The violence brings the total dead to over 1,300 since the Presidential election. But this would be the first example of large-scale killings in Ivory Coast blamed on forces loyal to Ouattara. There have been rumors of him not exactly being a saint, despite how the West has characterized him. Human rights groups have said that both sides have committed war crimes. And certainly the violence has triggered tensions that have highlighted ethnic rivalries in Ivory Coast.
The country had been called “pre-genocidal” for weeks prior to the massacre at Duékoué. It was well-known that something like this could happen. The vaunted international community, coming to the rescue of civilians in Benghazi, could not be bothered to do the same in Duékoué or Abidjan. As a result, Africans are dying. And the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is revealed to be selective in nature.