The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says up to a million people have fled the West African nation of Ivory Coast because they fear an all-out civil war between followers of rival presidential claimants.
The report says between 700,000 and a million people have fled their homes, most of them from the capital, Abidjan, according to a report by Al Jazeera.UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said Friday in Geneva:
“The massive displacement in Abidjan and elsewhere is being fuelled by fears of all-out war."
Fleming added the closure of banks and businesses has caused chaos in the country adding to the rise in food prices. Another agency has warned the Western part of the country is destabilised.
The instability began after elections between long-standing Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara ending on November 28, 2010, which Ouattara narrowly won. Gbagbo refused to concede defeat but the African Union and the UN recognised Ouattara.
The stalemate led to fighting as the Army declared loyalty to Gbagbo, while rebels from northern and western regions of the country stood by Ouattara. More than 450 people are reported to have died so far.
An AFP news report says the UN is under pressure to ban heavy weapons such as cannons and rocket launchers in the Ivory Coast conflict. The UN Security Council met Friday to discuss the situation. France’s Ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, said on Friday:
"We are very close to a civil war in Abidjan."
The Vanguard says Nigeria, backed by France, has proposed the use of military force to protect civilians in Ivory Coast, a resolution very similar to that adopted recently concerning the fighting in Libya.
The Nigerian proposal is made against the backdrop of AU approval and co-operation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, the same difficulty as that faced by the UN is being seen here, as arguments against who should lead a possible ECOWAS force have already been heard.
An ECOWAS press release Friday called the situation in Ivory Coast a “regional humanitarian emergency.”
Meanwhile, a Bloomberg report says mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia are pillaging and looting the western area of the country, taking advantage of the confusion to do so.