The UN has confirmed that Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo has surrendered and has been handed over to the rebel camp, where Channel 4 News has been gauging reaction.
Gbagbo was captured after a ground assault by 30 French armoured vehicles on his residential compound in the Cocody district of Abidjan, following an earlier aerial bombardment by UN and French forces.
But both French and UN forces denied involvement in the actual arrest of Gbagbo, who was taken into custody at Ouattara’s base camp at the Golf hotel along with scores of his troops.
The UN spokesman for the mission in the Ivory Coast, Hamadoun Toure, told Channel 4 News that Gbagbo was captured – along with his wife Simone- by Ouattara’s Republican forces alone.
“I can assure you one hundred per-cent that no UN soldier was involved in this ground operation” he said.
A French government source was also keen to stress that French forces were not involved in Gbagbo’s capture.
I can assure you we have cut Laurent Gbagbo, we’ve been waiting for this historic day for 4 months and finally the dictator is gone Mark Toure, Ouattara spokesman
“Mr Gbagbo was arrested by Mr Ouattara’s troops, that is true, but not by French special forces, who did not go into the enclosure of the residence,” the source said.
But his statement contradicted Gbagbo’s spokesman Toussaint Alain, who said “Gbagbo has been arrested by French special forces in his residence and has been handed over to the rebel leaders”
Channel 4 News put the claims to Ouattara’s camp who have been inside the Golf Hotel for several months. Spokesman Mark Toure day laughed off Alain’s claims, saying “this was entirely the work of the Republican Forces, they are using the French claim for propaganda reasons, no I can assure you we have cut Laurent Gbagbo, we’ve been waiting for this historic day for 4 months and finally the dictator is gone”.
“Gbagbo is finished. His forces are finished. We have Ble Goude (the leader of Gbagbo’s Young Patriots), and most of the other (generals) have been caught, they are all here at the Golf Hotel” he added.
He said Gbagbo would be tried for alleged war crimes, whilst denying his own side had been involved in the massacre of upto a 1000 civilians in the western part of Ivory Coast.
“We will return Gbagbo to justice, we’re not sure if that will be through an international or national court, but in the mean time we are taking care of Gbagbo and making sure he will answer for his crimes.”
Looking to the future, Toure said that Ouattara will “hopefully” unite the country, but he said that even three hours after Gbagbo’s arrest there had been attacks on the Golf hotel, and “sporadic resistance”.
Alex Vines, who chaired a UN inspection team and lived there from 2005-2008, told Channel 4 News unification of a country that has been divided for over a decade will now be Ouattara’s key task.
“At least 45.9 per cent of the country voted for Mr Gbagbo, that’s a large number of Ivorians that don’t support Ouattara. So his task is to reconcile the country, bring it together, and that will need both reconcilliation but also opening up the process of justice too, looking at allegations of human rights abuses including by his own forces such as those that happened a few weeks ago in the west of Ivory Coast.”
Gbagbo has refused to step down after his rival Alassane Ouattara won last November’s presidential election, according to results certified by the United Nations, reigniting a civil war that has claimed more than a thousand lives and displaced a million people.
Channel 4 News special report - Ivory Coast: divided nation
Hundreds of fresh pro-Ouattara troops massed at a base camp just north of Abidjan, where a small bus arrived, filled with new Kalashnikov rifles still in their transparent blue wrappers.
The French armoured vehicles, each carrying between four to eight men, left their base in the south and headed towards downtown Abidjan early on Monday.
“The operation is underway. I cannot give you more details. The aim is to ensure a bloodbath is averted,” said Frederick Daguillon, spokesman for the French force in Ivory Coast.
Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the UN mission in the country, had said on Sunday U.N. and French forces were seeking to neutralise Gbagbo’s heavy weapons.
“We had targeted and hit several different places where we found heavy weapons, not only the areas around Gbagbo’s residence, but all places where we know that there are heavy weapons,” Toure said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the UN headquarters in Ivory Coast, Ouattara’s base and two civilian districts had been hit by machine gun, sniper and rocket-propelled grenade fire in recent days.
“These actions are unacceptable and cannot continue,” said Ban on Sunday, authorising U.N. peacekeepers to use “all necessary means” to suppress the use of heavy weapons by Gbagbo’s troops, protect civilians and peacekeepers.
Ouattara’s forces swept from the north to coastal Abidjan almost unopposed more than a week ago in a drive to install Ouattara as the president, but have met heavy resistance in Abidjan.
Gbagbo’s defeat had appeared imminent last week and talks took place between the two sides. But Gbagbo’s soldiers have dug in, holding on to swathes of the city and frustrating hopes of a swift end to the conflict.