| 12°C Dublin

UN and French troops attack in Ivory Coast

UNITED Nations and French helicopters bombarded the residence of Ivory Coast's former leader, Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan yesterday, according to eyewitnesses.

"A French helicopter fired missiles at the residence," Jean Paul Turin, who could see the scene from his balcony, said last night. "After the explosion, I saw a big black plume of smoke. The helicopter was being shot at from the building of the state television. It retaliated with a missile towards the state TV building."

Mr Gbagbo has refused to accept Alassane Ouattara's internationally recognised victory in the November 28 presidential election and refused to step down as president. While many of his troops retreated or defected as Mr Ouattara's fighters swept down from the north of the country to Abidjan, Gbagbo's forces renewed fighting in the city of 4 million people yesterday.

Yesterday, the US condemned Gbagbo's "renewed assault" and called on him to end the fighting and surrender to Ouattara. "It is clear that Gbagbo's attempts at negotiation this week were nothing more than a ruse to regroup and rearm," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement in Washington.

Staff at the British Embassy in Abidjan were evacuated yesterday after it came under fire from forces loyal to Gbagbo. The Foreign Office in London said its staff and "diplomats of other nationalities from neighbouring residences" left "under the auspices of the United Nations". Staff at Israel's embassy were rescued by the UN on April 9 after being holed up for several days. Commercial flights resumed yesterday at Abidjan airport, Neba Koffi, the acting general director of the airport, said in a telephone interview.

Human Rights Watch said forces loyal to Ouattara killed hundreds of civilians, burned at least 10 villages and raped women from an ethnic group perceived to be loyal to Gbagbo.

More than one million people have fled their homes during the crisis, according to the UN. Human Rights Watch said that, before February, abuses against civilians were committed mainly by forces loyal to Gbagbo. That changed after fighters nominally under the control of Ouattara's Prime Minister Soro began an offensive that month.

The atrocities culminated in a March 29 massacre of hundreds of civilians in Duekoue, home to people from the Guere ethnic group, most of whom supported Gbagbo, according to the report.

Irish Independent