The New York Times March 25, 2011
Up to a Million Flee Crisis in Ivory Coast
By ADAM NOSSITER
DAKAR, Senegal — As many as one million people have fled their homes in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan, to escape the increasing violence and collapsing economy stemming from the nation’s political crisis, the United Nations said Friday.
Daily gunfire spurred by Laurent Gbagbo’s efforts to stay in power after losing a presidential election last November have pushed thousands of residents out of neighborhoods surrounding the city’s central districts, while the closure of banks and businesses have led to widespread unemployment.
“The massive displacement in Abidjan and elsewhere is being fueled by fears of all out war,” a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees told reporters in Geneva Thursday, estimating that between 700,000 and one million people have already left their homes.
“Bus terminals are overcrowded with passengers desperate to get seats on vehicles heading to northern, central and eastern parts of the country where there has been no fighting so far,” an agency spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, said.
In Abidjan, Mr. Gbagbo’s security forces have waged an armed campaign against neighborhoods loyal to the man recognized by international bodies as the winner of the presidential election, Alassane Ouattara, killing at least 25 with mortar shells at a market last week, according to the United Nations. Earlier this month, unarmed demonstrators against his rule were mowed down with heavy machine-gun fire. Guerilla fighters have taken up arms and waged attacks against Mr. Gbagbo’s forces in Abidjan, while civilians, caught in the crossfire, are now deserting neighborhoods wholesale.
The United Nations and African political bodies have been unable to stop the attacks on civilians, despite the presence of a large United Nations peacekeeping force in Abidjan and repeated visits to the city by political leaders from across the continent seeking to mediate a settlement. At the United Nations, France and Nigeria are calling for additional sanctions on Mr. Gbagbo and his inner circle — to add to those imposed late last year by the European Union and the United States — as well as a ban on heavy-weapons use in Abidjan.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 500 people have been killed since the election; Mr. Ouattara puts the figure at nearly double that. The mortar attack last week may amount to “crimes against humanity,” the United Nations said, but a spokesman for Mr. Gbagbo later riposted with a blast against “Western media” for spreading “false information,” warning that international journalists there would be considered a “media extension of prevailing terrorism.”
Fighting in the western part of Ivory Coast has also displaced tens of thousands of residents, according to the United Nations and aid agencies, as fighters loyal to Mr. Ouattara skirmish with militias and troops tied to Mr. Gbagbo. Towns near the Liberian border have been deserted by people fleeing to the neighboring country, according to the United Nations, and the region has seen looting, rape and killing of civilians. Just on Tuesday, Ms. Fleming said, 6,000 from Ivory Coast entered Liberia.