The United States has approved travel sanctions on Laurent Gbagbo and 30 of his allies as pressure mounted on the incumbent Ivory Coast leader to step down following last month’s presidential election that the international community says he lost.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said that some 6,200 people already have fled the West African country’s post-election violence, and regional leaders called on Gbagbo to “yield power with dignity without further delay”.
The rebuke from neighbouring nations carries added weight because Gbagbo’s representatives have dismissed similar calls from former coloniser France and other Western nations as foreign interference.
The regional bloc, Ecowas, also said Gbagbo’s weekend demand that thousands of UN peacekeepers leave the volatile country “would further heighten tensions and worsen the plight of the vulnerable”.
The UN certified Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 vote, and Gbagbo on Saturday ordered the nearly 9,000 peacekeepers to leave immediately. The UN has refused to do so, and a Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on Monday has extended the force’s mandate until June 30.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Tuesday that Ivory Coast faces “a real risk” of a return to civil war.
He said the UN peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast has “confirmed that mercenaries, including freelance former combatants from Liberia, have been recruited to target certain groups in the population”.
He said forces loyal to Gbagbo are also obstructing the movement of UN personnel and their operations and called on member states to do what they can to supply the UN mission.