, ABIDJAN, Dec 21 – The UN Security Council extended the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast in defiance of Laurent Gbagbo\’s calls that the force leave as world powers made new calls for him to stand down as leader.
Amidst UN accusations that the strongman\’s followers had been involved in killings and that his entourage had hired mercenaries, the Security Council made its most explicit sign of support yet for opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the rightful president.
The European Union imposed sanctions on Gbagbo, his wife and 17 other Ivorians, the United States said it was preparing new action against him.
The UN Security Council also warned that it could order "targeted" sanctions and reinforce the 10,000-strong UNOCI peacekeeping force.
Nearly all the international community has recognized Ouattara as winner of Ivory Coast\’s November 28 election and fears of a repeat of the country\’s 2002 civil war have grown as Gbagbo has clung to the presidential palace.
The UN has accused Gbagbo\’s security forces of involvement in dozens of alleged kidnappings and murders.
UN peacekeeping supremo Alain Le Roy warned that the UN force faced a "dangerous" confrontation with Gbagbo and accused the disputed leader of using mercenaries. Interview: Top UN peacekeeper warns of I.Coast confrontation
"It is clear that President Gbagbo\’s camp is doing everything to make life difficult for us, including by blocking our supplies and by harassing our personnel, and carrying out provocations, some armed," Le Roy told AFP.
"They want to cut all of our fuel. They are forcing us to leave the apartments we use," added the UN under secretary general after briefing the UN Security Council on the UN mission in Ivory Coast, UNOCI.
"There is direct harassment of UNOCI. They are really trying to make our life difficult, they want to make it impossible."
Security Council resolution 1962 warned that UN might more troops "as may be needed" from other peacekeeping missions and it called on countries to be ready to help any new appeal for forces.
It said the Security Council was ready "to impose measures, including targeted sanctions, against persons who, among other things, threaten the peace process and national reconciliation."
UN peacekeepers and France\’s 900-strong force continued to patrol the streets of Abidjan and to protect the Golf hotel where Ouattara has set up his base.
UNOCI chief Choi Young-jin accused Gbagbo\’s troops of blockading the Golf Hotel and "on and off denying access to food and water supply trucks."
He complained that gunmen in military uniform opened fire on a UN patrol, and said the Gbagbo camp had sent armed young men to intimidate UN staff in their homes at night.
Gbagbo and Ouattara have both declared themselves president, but the Gbagbo retains control of the armed forces and the presidential palace.
Ouattara is backed by the former rebels that control areas north of a 2003 ceasefire line but in the south, home to the cocoa ports that dominate Ivory Coast\’s economy, he is confined to the Golf Hotel.
Focus: Frontline Ivory Coast towns fear new civil war
Meanwhile, in the poor suburbs of Abidjan, there are reports of gangs in uniform raiding houses at night and killing suspected Ouattara backers.
On Sunday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern about "the growing evidence of massive violations of human rights".
"In the past three days there has been more than 50 people killed, and over 200 injured," she said."
Pillay said "armed individuals in military uniform accompanied by elements of the Defence and Security Forces (FDS) or militia groups" took people at night and some were "found dead in questionable circumstances."
Gbagbo\’s interior minister, Emile Guirieoulou, rejected accused the UN of producing a "partisan report" about alleged rights abuses.
"The violence of the past few days has seen around 14 members of the Defence and Security Forces shot dead. That is not said often enough," he told AFP.