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UN chief repeats call for Gbagbo to step down to avert deaths

04-02-2011 22:10 BJT

By Ronald Njoroge and Ben Ochieng

NAIROBI, April 2 (Xinhua) -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeated his calls for Cote d'Ivoire incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to step down and hand over power to the legitimately elected president of the West African nation, Alassane Ouattara.

Addressing a news conference in Nairobi on Friday night, Ban said only Gbagbo's removal will end the violence that cost the life of a UN civilian staff member Zahra Abidi, by a stray bullet while at her home on Thursday. "Only the peaceful hand over of power to Ouattara will end the bloodshed," the world's top diplomat told journalists in Nairobi.

He urged both parties to exercise restraint and warned that there will be no amnesty from prosecutions for crimes committed against civilians in the country that cost the lives of over 490 in past 4 months.

He said the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote d'Ivoire lost a civilian staff member who died on Thursday after being hit by a stray bullet.

Zahra Abidi, 33, was an information analyst at the UN Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) in Abidjan, the country's commercial capital that has been the scene of intensified fighting between forces loyal to Gbagbo and those supporting Ouattara.

The two men have been locked in a battle for leadership of the West African nation after Gbagbo refused to step aside following his UN-certified defeat to Ouattara in November's presidential election run-off.

Abidi joined the UNOCI in April 2009, first working as a UN volunteer (UNV) with the mission's Electoral Assistance Division, and later with the Joint Operation Center, where the Swedish national helped to prepare daily situation reports and gather and analyze information on developments that might affect the mission' s mandate.

Ban extended his condolences to Abidi's family, adding that the UNOCI will do everything it can to protect civilians and the UN staff.

"There has been too much bloodshed, including hundreds of civilians killed or wounded," he reports in Nairobi.

"I renew my call on Gbagbo to step down to avoid further violence, and transfer power immediately to the legitimate winner of the election, President Ouattara."

The post-electoral crisis has resulted in the deaths of nearly 500 people and the displacement of up to 1 million, many of whom have fled to neighboring countries.

Despite the worsening violence and attacks against its staff and premises, the UNOCI continues to carry out its vital work, which includes protecting civilians and essential locations such as the Golf Hotel where Ouattara and his government are based.

The UNOCI, which has about 8,000 troops in the country, 3,500 of them in Abidjan, is receiving heavy fire, including attacks against its offices and its patrols.

One of its helicopters was shot at in Abidjan Saturday as it was landing, the second such attack in five days. In addition, pro- Gbagbo Special Forces have not stopped shooting at the UNOCI headquarters since Thursday afternoon.

The office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has repeatedly indicated that it will prosecute crimes committed in Cote d'Ivoire if the court's requirements for investigation, which relate to the gravity of the crimes and the inadequacy of national proceedings, are met.

An investigation could be triggered by a referral of the situation by the UN Security Council or any state that is party to the court, or if the prosecutor decides to act on his own authority.

While Cote d'Ivoire is not a party to the court's Rome Statute, it accepted the court's jurisdiction through a declaration in 2003.

The Security Council resolution references this declaration and states that the report of the commission of inquiry should be provided to the Security Council and "other relevant international bodies."

Editor:Xiong Qu |Source: Xinhua

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