|AFP – People look at the body |
of man killed by gunfire
on January 11, 2011
in the Abobo neighborhood
of Ivory …
They appeared to have been shot dead. There were also at least two unexploded grenades on the ground.
Forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to leave office, surrounded the area early Tuesday. The area voted overwhelmingly for Gbagbo's opponent Alassane Ouattara, who is recognized internationally as the winner of the Nov. 28 ballot.
Residents loyal to Ouattara say they killed two policemen. Those deaths could not be independently verified.
United Nations peacekeepers were forced back by Gbagbo supporters as they attempted to enter the area.
Also see AP's earlier story is below.
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Security forces loyal to Ivory Coast's incumbent leader, who refuses to cede power, on Tuesday fired volleys of gunshots as they cordoned off a large section of a neighborhood known to be his rival's stronghold.
United Nations peacekeepers arriving in a convoy of 13 vehicles were quickly forced back as they attempted to enter the area. Young men allied with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo amassed on a road leading to the area and threw large objects in their path.
PK 18, where the incident occurred, is part of Abobo, an Abidjan district that supported Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognized as the winner of the presidential election. Results verified by the U.N. say he won the Nov. 28 poll with a margin of more than half a million votes. Gbagbo accused the U.N. of bias after it endorsed the results and is refusing to leave office.
Marco Boubacar, head of the New Forces rebels who are allied to Ouattara, said police awoke them between 4 and 5 a.m. and wounded several people.
Boubacar, a resident of PK 18, spoke while brandishing a long kitchen knife as he stood on the bridge leading into the neighborhood. He said a group of neighbors belonging to the rebel group retaliated, killing two policemen.
"We were able to take down two men in uniform," he said.
The deaths could not be independently verified, but other witnesses said they saw the bodies. Ambulances were also seen speeding into and out of the neighborhood.
Shots could be heard at regular intervals and large police trucks were seen zooming into the area, loaded with armed policemen and helmeted soldiers.
Last month, a bloc of neighboring nations began mulling a military ouster. A militant youth group allied with Gbagbo last week began leading daily rallies to warn the international community against interfering in Ivory Coast.
The rally that was planned for Tuesday afternoon is not far from PK 18. Adama Toungara, the mayor of the area, said the early morning raid was an intimidation tactic intended to keep Ouattara supporters from disrupting the rally.
Human rights groups have criticized the U.N. for bowing to Gbagbo's security forces and allowing abuses to occur under their watch. The head of the U.N. human rights section received reports of two mass graves containing as many as 80 bodies of people shot or killed after the election, but his convoy was turned back at gunpoint when he tried to enter one of the sites in a suburb of Abidjan.
U.N. patrols have also been intimidated and forced to retreat on other occasions, including an incident last month in which ruling party loyalists torched a U.N. vehicle. State TV controlled by Gbagbo has shown footage of U.N. convoys stopped in front of crowds, or made to turn around, reasserting an image of U.N. powerlessness.
The U.N. was invited to observe the election and to certify the results following a 2005 peace deal signed by all political parties after a civil war. The certification was intended to create an independent mechanism to ascertain the winner and prevent fraud. Both Gbagbo and Ouattara signed the accord, but Gbagbo has since discounted the international body's findings and has called on the 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission to leave the country.
After three high-level delegations of African leaders failed to persuade Gbagbo to cede power, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States last month warned they were considering an armed intervention.
The move is controversial, though, because Ivory Coast has been a magnet for immigrants from other African nations including Nigeria, where troops would likely come from. And the Gbagbo regime has insinuated that any military action would lead to reprisal attacks against immigrants from the countries sending soldiers.
Experts say the risk of a return to civil war is real because Gbagbo is backed by the hardline Young Patriots, a group led by Charles Ble Goude, who was placed on a 2006 United Nations sanctions list for his role in inciting violence.
Goude has been leading rallies almost every day — including one that was to take place Tuesday near PK 18, but which was canceled just before it was to start because of tension in Abobo. He has warned there will be no peace if Gbagbo is forced out.
"They shouldn't kid themselves and imagine that they can come and remove him ... Because in every Ivorian there is a Gbagbo," Goude told The Associated Press in an interview on Monday. "Do they want to govern an Ivory Coast cemetery?"
Already at least 25,000 civilians have already crossed the border into neighboring Liberia in anticipation of possible clashes.
Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva that 600 more are arriving in Liberia daily and are being housed in a teeming refugee camp.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.