Isnin, 11 April 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Ouattara urges peace after Ivory Coast rival held

Posted: 11 Apr 2011 06:41 PM PDT

Laurent Gbagbo in a room of his residence in Abidjan, after being arrested, in this still image taken from video April 11, 2011. — Reuters pic

ABIDJAN, April 12 — Ivory Coast's internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara called for peace after his rival was arrested with the help of French forces, but he faces a huge task reuniting a country shattered by civil war.

Ouattara, who won a November presidential election according to UN-certified results, can finally begin asserting his authority over the West African country after Laurent Gbagbo was captured yesterday -- ending more than four months of a stand-off that descended into all-out conflict.

Gbagbo, who had refused to step down after 10 years in power, was arrested after French forces in the former colony closed in on the bunker where he had been holed up for the past week, and placed under the control of Ouattara's forces.

That leaves Ouattara as the sole leader in charge of the country, although many analysts say it may not be enough to end the fighting that has bloodied the world's top cocoa grower over the past few weeks.

"I call on my fellow countrymen to abstain from all forms of reprisal and violence," Ouattara said in a speech on his TCI television late yesterday, calling for "a new era of hope".

"Our country has turned a painful page in its history," he said, urging marauding youth militias to lay down their weapons and promising to restore security to the battered nation.

Friends and relatives of Laurent Gbagbo at Hotel Golf, where Gbagbo is being held after his arrest. — Reuters pic

Ethnic violence has festered during Ouattara's lengthy tug-of-war with Gbagbo, particularly in the west of the country, with hundreds of people killed as both sides to the conflict committed atrocities against civilians, aid groups say.

Ouattara said Gbagbo, his wife and aides who have been detained will face justice. But he also promised a South African-styled Truth and Reconciliation Commission to shed light on all crimes and human rights abuses.

Security vacuum

In the commercial capital Abidjan, where people have been trapped in their homes with little food or water as fighting raged for 10 days, Ouattara faces a more immediate challenge.

Dwindling supplies as well as frequent power cuts and a shortage of medicines have fuelled fears of a humanitarian disaster unless authorities can act swiftly.

Ouattara called for calm and said he had asked his police and gendarmerie forces as well as UN and French troops to help restore security.

Gbagbo, looking submissive and startled, briefly spoke on Ouattara's TCI television and called for an end to the fighting after his arrest.

But it is not clear whether pro-Gbagbo militias, who promised to fight to the bitter end and still control parts of Abidjan, will heed calls to lay down their weapons. Nor was it clear if the 46 per cent of Ivorians who voted for Gbagbo in the election will accept his defeat.

"Ouattara has to play this very carefully, to manage tensions at home and placate the domestic constituents of Gbagbo and so resolve not just the electoral dispute but also in effect a 10-year-long civil war," said Mark Schroeder at political risk consultancy Stratfor.

The November poll was meant to draw a line under a 2002-03 civil war that left the country split in two. Instead, it reignited the conflict, killing more than 1,000 people and displacing one million. The final death toll is likely to run into the thousands.

"The current problem of Abidjan is a security vacuum," said Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York.

"Most police and gendarmerie are not at their (posts) and until today we have had a number of cases of looting, of raping and of murders in the areas of Abidjan controlled by either of the sides to the conflict," he said.

Ouattara's legitimacy may be tarnished by accusations that his forces killed hundreds as they swept through the country to reach Abidjan -- something that his aides deny.

French role

He also faces questions about the role played by the French military in securing his rival's arrest.

A column of more than 30 French armoured vehicles moved on Gbagbo's residence in Abidjan early yesterday after French and UN helicopter gunships pounded the compound overnight.

Witnesses said Ouattara's forces, who had failed to dislodge Gbagbo despite mounting a fierce attack on his bunker last week, joined French ground troops advancing on the compound.

France and Ouattara's camp insisted it was Ouattara's forces that arrested Gbagbo, eager to counter claims by Gbagbo's aides that Ouattara is nothing more than a foreign-backed stooge.

"Just after 3 o'clock, the ex-president Laurent Gbagbo handed himself over to (Ouattara's) Republican Forces of Ivory Coast. At no moment did French forces enter either the garden or the residence of Gbagbo," French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard said.

Gbagbo was taken to the Hotel Golf in Abidjan, where his rival has his headquarters. Ouattara's television showed Gbagbo in a room at the Golf, with Ouattara's troops standing by him.

Wearing a white undershirt, he looked in good health but submissive. He was given a towel and a clean green shirt, which he put on in front of the camera. His wife Simone, believed by many Ivorians to possess powers of witchcraft, was with him at the hotel, looking dishevelled.

Ouattara said all measures had been taken to ensure their physical security, and that their rights would be respected. UN officials said he would be moved within the next few hours to a secure location up north, without giving details. — Reuters

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Libyan fighting goes on after peace bid fails

Posted: 11 Apr 2011 05:20 PM PDT

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (right) with Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguessou (second left) outside a tent in Gaddafi's heavily fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, April 10, 2011. — Reuters graphic

TRIPOLI, April 12 — An African Union plan to halt Libya's civil war collapsed, and rebels said the increasingly bloody siege of the city of Misrata by Muammar Gaddafi's troops made talk of a ceasefire meaningless.

The Red Cross said it was opening a Tripoli office and would send a team to Misrata to help civilians trapped by fighting, but one of Gaddafi's ministers warned any aid operation involving foreign troops would be seen as a declaration of war.

Rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said after talks with the AU delegation in Benghazi in the rebel-held east yesterday: "The African Union initiative does not include the departure of Gaddafi and his sons from the Libyan political scene, therefore it is outdated." 

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif quickly dismissed the idea of his father stepping down.

"We want new blood, that's what we want for Libya's future. But to talk of (Gaddafi) leaving, that's truly ridiculous," he told French news channel BFM TV.

"If the West wants democracy, a new constitution, elections, well, we agree. We agree on this point but the West must help us to provide a propitious climate. But all these bombings, this support given to rebel groups, all that is counter-productive."

Air strikes

Libyan television said the "colonial and crusader aggressors" hit military and civilian sites in Al Jufrah district in central Libya yesterday.

Rebels in the coastal city of Misrata, under siege for six weeks, scorned reports that Gaddafi had accepted a ceasefire, saying they were fighting house-to-house battles with his forces, who fired rockets into the city.

Western leaders also rejected any deal that did not include Gaddafi's removal, and Nato refused to suspend its bombing of his forces unless there was a credible ceasefire.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a Brussels news briefing that Gaddafi's government had announced ceasefires in the past, but "they did not keep their promises".

"Any future proposal that does not include this, we cannot accept," he said, accusing Gaddafi of bombing, shelling and shooting civilians.

A resident of Misrata told Reuters there was heavy fighting on the eastern approaches and in the centre.

Rebels told Reuters that Gaddafi's forces had intensified the assault, for the first time firing truck-mounted, Russian-made Grad rockets into the city, where conditions for civilians are said to be desperate.

Human Rights Watch accused Gaddafi's forces of indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Misrata that violated international law. It said about 250 people had died.

Earlier, Al Jazeera television quoted a rebel spokesman as saying five people died and 20 were wounded in Misrata, a lone rebel bastion in western Libya.

South African President Jacob Zuma did not travel from Tripoli to Benghazi with other AU delegates, to the rebels' surprise, but issued a statement when he got home saying the mission had been "a huge success".

Libyan officials have repeatedly said Gaddafi, who holds no official state position, will not quit.

The AU delegation was met in Benghazi by up to 3,000 demonstrators holding banners reading: "African Union take Gaddafi with you" and "Gaddafi has committed genocide".

They pushed up to the doors of the hotel where the talks were held, yelling "the people want the downfall of the regime".

The African Union does not have a good track record in brokering peace deals, having failed recently to end conflicts or disputes in Somalia, Madagascar and Ivory Coast.

At the front outside the eastern rebel-held town of Ajdabiyah, rebels buried the charred bodies of Gaddafi troops killed in air strikes and said they were advancing westwards.

But there were only light skirmishes yesterday on the contested road to the oil port of Brega, 70km further west, in contrast to Sunday's heavy fighting in Ajdabiyah when rebels repelled a government assault.

Nato steps up attacks

Nato, which is operating under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians, stepped up attacks on Gaddafi's armour over the weekend after rebels had accused them of acting too slowly.

Rasmussen said the alliance had flown 300 sorties since Saturday, destroying 49 tanks, nine armoured personnel carriers, three anti-aircraft guns and four ammunition bunkers, mostly around Ajdabiyah and Misrata.

The AU proposal included an immediate cessation of hostilities, effective monitoring of the ceasefire, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the protection of foreigners.

The rebels had previously rejected a negotiated outcome to what has become the bloodiest in a series of pro-democracy revolts across the Arab world that have ousted the autocratic leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

The Nato attacks outside Ajdabiyah on Sunday helped break the biggest assault by Gaddafi's forces on the eastern front for at least a week. The town is the gateway to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi 150km north up the Mediterranean coast.

Yesterday, rebels wrapped the burnt and mangled bodies of government fighters in blankets and dragged them into the desert for burial.

"We have been able to advance because of the air strikes," said rebel Belgassim El-Awami. It was not clear how far west the rebels had moved along a front that has swung back and forth for more than a week in a fight for the oil port of Brega.

Opposition fighters have been overwhelmed by Gaddafi's firepower in western Libya, close to his base of Tripoli, but are increasingly using guerrilla tactics to weaken his hold.

Tripoli residents said there had been several attacks on army checkpoints and a police station in the past week and gunfire can be heard at night. — Reuters

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