Ivory Coast wonders: Where's our UN intervention?

President-elect Alassane Ouattara asked the United Nations this week to provide 'legitimate force' to protect civilians, but Ivory Coast is unlikely to receive the kind of international military intervention currently underway in Libya.

By , Correspondent

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    Youth supporters of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo gather at a stadium at army headquarters to sign up for military service in Abidjan March 21.

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As gun, rocket, and mortar battles intensify in Ivory Coast's capital, Abidjan, functionaries in distant capitals have begun selecting more loaded vocabulary to describe the conflict: civil war, ethnic cleansing.

And given that more than 400 people have died and nearly 400,000 have fled since renegade President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step aside after losing the Nov. 28 election, the conflict is earning comparisons to what's happening in Libya.

On Monday, rightful President Alassane Ouattara asked the United Nations to provide "legitimate force" to protect civilians after a mortar attack last week killed at least 25 people. But West Africa security specialists say Ivory Coast is hardly set to receive the kind of international military push currently underway in Libya.

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"I don't think a Libya-style intervention is likely in Ivory Coast in the near term," says Anne Fruhauf, analyst for the New York-based Eurasia Group risk monitoring organization.

It once seemed possible.

In a bolder, early chapter of the Ivory Coast power struggle, all 15 nations in West Africa's economic union swore to stage a military intervention if that's what it took to dislodge incumbent Mr. Gbagbo from the presidential palace he's yet to leave.

Yet today, with two of the bloc's more hawkish governments, those of Nigeria and Senegal, heading into their own elections, such swift action looks increasingly unlikely.

Meanwhile, the United States Department of State has ruled out the option.

"The United States feels this is kind of France's stomping grounds, and France feels it needs to tread extremely carefully because of its legacy as the colonial oppressor and Gbagbo's ability to play that to his advantage," says Ms. Fruhauf. "At the moment, the feeling on the ground in Abidjan is that this is going to be fought out locally."

It already is. In the past week alone, Gbagbo troops have shelled markets and publicly armed thousands of civilians.

The UN mission there is increasingly powerless to stem the violence. Gbagbo supporters have blocked the movement of UN peacekeepers, and burned their cars. UN personel now circumnavigate the city in unmarked vehicles.

Gbagbo himself has demanded the departure of the UN, and once threatened to shoot down any UN aircraft hovering above the country – a reverse no-fly zone, if you will.

Meanwhile, the killing continues.

"[The UN] is not really making their presence felt. They're not able to prevent assaults on civilians even within the vicinity of their own compound," Fruhauf says. "They're really caght between a rock and a hard place."

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