‘Death squads’ out on Ivory Coast streets

Ivory Coast appeared to be sliding back into civil war yesterday as foreign nationals were warned to leave the country, while government-backed “death squads” were reported to be abducting opposition supporters.

The international community stepped up its financial blockade of the regime of Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to concede defeat in last month’s election, with the World Bank and regional leaders freezing loans.

The European Union and United States have enforced sanctions on Gbagbo and, with the African Union and regional ECOWAS bloc, have recognised his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, as the rightful President.

Gbagbo accused the international community of “declaring war on Ivory Coast”.

But the real war on the ground appeared to be targeting opposition supporters, after the UN confirmed the regime was recruiting mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia and breaking an international arms embargo.

Guillaume Soro, who is likely to be Prime Minister in any Ouattara Administration, called on the international community to use military action to oust Gbagbo.

“It is obvious that there is one solution left – that of force,” he told France’s i-TElE digital TV channel.

The UN has refused Gbagbo’s demands that UN peacekeepers withdraw from the country, while Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon warned Ivory Coast may slip back into “civil war”. He demanded that Gbagbo’s forces end a blockade on the opposition headquarters, where they have encircled UN peacekeepers and refused to let them bring supplies in.

“Facing this direct and unacceptable challenge to the legitimacy of the UN, the world community cannot stand by,” said Ban.

He also confirmed “mercenaries, including freelance former combatants from Liberia, have been recruited to target certain groups in the population”.

France’s call for its 15,000 citizens to “temporarily leave” its former colony has stirred fears the country may yet be abandoned.

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