Ivory Coast's Gbagbo may be considering surrender

Overnight attacks by the UN and France on the residence of renegade president Gbagbo have empowered the forces of elected President Ouattara and reportedly brought Gbago to the brink of surrendering.

Luc Gnago/Reuters
Civilians flee with their belongings in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on April 5. Forces loyal to presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara launched a major assault on the presidential palace on Tuesday, driving home their campaign to oust Laurent Gbagbo after UN and French helicopters left his military bases in flames.

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The Ivory Coast leader who has refused to leave office after losing the November presidential election is reportedly negotiating his surrender today. United Nations and French forces attacked the residence of the renegade President Laurent Gbagbo Monday night in a bid to help hand power over to the internationally recognized winner of the election, opposition leader and International Monetary Fund economist Alassane Ouattara.

Ali Coulibaly, Mr. Ouattara’s ambassador to France (Ivory Coast's former colonial power) told radio station France Info that the surrender was near, according to the Associated Press. "I'm not trying to be demagogical or to add to the disinformation, but according to the information that I have, he's negotiating his surrender because he has realized the end is near. The game is up," Mr. Coulibaly said.

On Tuesday morning, Ouattara's forces were preparing for a final offensive on Abidjan, which they reached last week after sweeping up control of nearly the entire country. Their rapid advance was preceded by several months of political tension and brief spates of violence in Abidjan between Mr. Gbagbo's government troops and Ouattara's supporters. The UN and French intervention allowed Ouattara's forces to finally reach the center of the city and Gbagbo's residence.

The UN and France said the use of force was justified because it prevented further civilian deaths, which number at least 800, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, BBC reported. The AP adds that most of those killed have been supporters of Ouattara, and that up to a million people have fled. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the UN attacks were not a declaration of war on Gbagbo, although the UN is one of a couple international bodies that have recognized Ouattara as the rightful winner of the presidential election.

A spokesman for the UN mission in Ivory Coast, Hamadoun Toure, said in an e-mail, "We launched an operation to neutralize heavy weapons that Gbagbo's special forces have been using against the civilian population for the last three months. We destroyed them in four locations,” according to the Guardian. The assault on the Akouedo military camp that hosts three battalions of the Ivory Coast army was recorded and posted online (video).

Though the BBC correspondent near the besieged Ivory Coast city Abidjan says today looks like an “endgame” for Gbagbo, he adds that “the fighting has reached a new level of ferocity and there are reports pro-Gbagbo forces have seized two bridges in the city, which would suggest the battle is not all one way.”

The thousands-strong Ouattara forces were confident before the siege as they climbed into machine gun-mounted vehicles on the way to Abidjan and spoke with a Reuters reporter. “We know when it starts, but it could take 48 hours to properly clean the city of Abidjan,” predicted the commanding officer of Ouattara's forces, Issiaka "Wattao" Ouattara.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, France has backed Ouattara over Gbagbo since the November election.

France's position in one of its most supportive former colonies has changed over time. It played peacekeeper in 2003 during the country's civil war, but turned on Gbagbo when his forces shot nine French peacekeepers in 2004. Then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac wiped out the Ivory Coast Air Force with strikes.

Gbagbo's "Ivoirite" program, which framed Christian Ivorians in the south as the only "true Ivorians," drove a further wedge between Gbagbo and France because France had concerns about "Gbagbo's religio-ethnic mission," the Monitor reported. That split was on display this weekend.

But under the presidency of strongman Laurent Gbagbo, relations deteriorated to the point that yesterday, as French troops took the city’s airport to ensure safe departure of foreign nationals, Mr. Gbagbo finally played the “ugly colonialist” card.

French troops were planning a “Rwanda-style genocide” in Ivory Coast, state TV repeatedly stated on Sunday.

This horrified some 12,000 French nationals, a number down from 40,000 a few years ago. The French embassy Sunday night was attacked by “patriotic youth,” according to Radio France International. And in Paris, Gbagbo envoy Alain Toussaint declared, "It is the French Army, which has put itself in the service of the rebellion … the French Army has become an auxiliary force of the rebellion.”

As of early Monday, Gbagbo had reversed his hard-line position, saying via state TV that his forces will “ensure the security of the French,” in spite of “France’s maneuvers intended to bring death in Ivory Coast.”

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