There are conflicting accounts on how former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was finally captured. Gbagbo was arrested after a military assault on his residence in Abidjan and has been put under UN guard.
Forces of his UN-recognised successor, Alassane Ouattara, and French tanks advanced on his residence where he had been ensconced in a bunker. Gbagbo had been refusing to cede power, insisting he won November’s presidential election.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the detention of Gbagbo had brought to an end months of unnecessary conflict, and the UN would support the new government.
Ivory Coast’s permanent representative to the UN, Youssoufou Bamba, said Mr Gbagbo would stand trial.
UN peacekeepers had accused pro-Gbagbo forces of endangering the civilian population and asked France, the former colonial power, to take out the defiant leader’s heavy weapons.
There have been allegations of atrocities by both pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces. The UN has reports of more than 1,000 people being killed and at least 100,000 fleeing the country. UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said Mr Gbagbo and his wife Simone were now under UN police guard at the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara has his headquarters.
His son Michel is reportedly also with the couple at the hotel.
Gbagbo was shown on pro-Ouattara TV sitting in a room, looking dazed but apparently uninjured, wearing an open shirt and white vest. His downfall came after a day of fighting around his residence which saw French light tanks sweep in after rocket strikes from attack helicopters, while Ouattara loyalists engaged pro-Gbagbo forces.
Issard Soumahro, a pro-Ouattara fighter who said he had taken part in the final assault, told the Associated Press that French helicopters had been firing until 0300 (0300 GMT) on Monday.
“We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker,” he said. “He [Gbagbo] was there with his wife and his son. He wasn’t hurt but he was tired and his cheek was swollen from where a soldier had slapped him.”
According to Gbagbo’s spokesman in Ivory Coast, Ahoua Don Mello, the beleaguered leader finally “came out of his bunker and surrendered to the French without offering resistance”.
A special adviser to Gbagbo, Bernard Houdin, told French TV his leader would never have been taken without French help.
But French diplomats denied their forces had arrested him, insisting it was Ouattara’s forces.
Forces loyal to Mr Ouattara launched an offensive from their stronghold in the north at the end of March, after months of political deadlock during which Mr Gbagbo refused to recognise his rival’s election victory.
As they closed in on Gbagbo’s power base in Abidjan, UN and French attack helicopters targeted heavy weapons being used by his forces. Young men honked their motor-bike horns and women danced up and down the boulevard waving branches and singing.
“But this doesn’t mean that the war is over,” said one person. “Peace will not come if all the militia have not been arrested.”
The television station controlled by president claimant Alassane Ouattara showed pictures of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo Gbagbo under arrest Monday Gbagbo looked shocked, but appeared to be in good health.
The question now is who arrested him? Gbagbo’s side said it was French
special forces. The French denied this, saying he was arrested by Ouattara’s men. This dispute matters hugely to the politics of Ivory Coast. Because if Gbagbo was arrested by the French - the former colonial power - Paris will be accused of acting in a neo-colonial way, and Ouattara will be accused by Ivorian nationalists of being a puppet of the outside world.” Whatever the truth, Gbagbo’s capitulation has not eased the tension in that country and that is what world leaders expect President Ouattara to achieve-to bring peace to his native country.
But world leaders Monday hailed the surrender of self declared Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo surrendered to the forces of presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara and is being held by them, the United Nations said, raising hopes for an imminent end to the strife that has wracked the country since Gbagbo refused to acknowledge his defeat in last November presidential election.
A Ouattara spokesman said Gbagbo, with his wife and several advisers, was being held at the Golf Hotel, which has been Ouattara’s headquarters since the disputed presidential poll in late November. Abidjan was reportedly tense following the arrest, with neighbourhoods around the presidential residence completely deserted, while those around the Golf Hotel were beginning to fill up with armed Ouattara supporters.
The United Nations mission in Cote d’Ivoire confirmed that former President Laurent Gbagbo surrendered to the forces of Alassane Ouattara and was currently in their custody, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said on Monday. Haq said the UN mission, known as UNOCI, was “providing protection and security in accordance with its mandate” and that UNOCI was mandated to protect political stakeholders in Cote d’Ivoire, which included Gbagbo.
The UN Security Council, the UN said, has begun “urgent consultations”, during which it will hear a briefing on the unfolding situation in Ivory Coast from the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy.
Youssoufou Bamba, Cote d’Ivoire’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that Gbagbo was “alive and well”, and that he would “be brought to justice for the crimes he has committed”.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the arrest of Gbagbo has ended months of unnecessary bloodshed, and that he would speak to Ouattara soon. According to him, “This is an end of a chapter that should never have been.”
“We have to help them to restore stability, rule of law, and address all
humanitarian and security issues.” Gbagbo’s “physical safety should be ensured and I’m going to urge that.” “We need to think about what his future should be.”
A pro-Ouattara television station showed footage of Gbagbo being brought into the Golf Hotel shortly after news of his capture broke. Footage of him receiving medical treatment was also shown. Video footage of Gbagbo after his arrest was released in the afternoon. He was wearing a multicoloured shirt and white vest.
Earlier on Monday, a column of more than 30 French armoured vehicles and tanks were seen advancing towards Gbagbo’s residence. Residents told the Associated Press that they had seen at least 10 armoured vehicles flying the French flag driving through the area around Gbagbo’s residence, with two tanks seen taking up positions at a key intersection. Forces loyal to Gbagbo were seen fleeing the area, as the French forces advanced. Video footage of
Mr Gbagbo after his arrest was later released. He was wearing a multicoloured shirt and white vest.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, spoke with Ouattara on the telephone at length shortly after Gbagbo’s arrest, the Elysee palace said. In London, British Foreign Minister William Hague welcoming the news, urged Gbagbo’s captors to give him a fair trial. “Mr. Gbagbo has acted against any democratic principles in the way he has behaved in recent months, and of course there have been many breaches of any rule of law as well,” Hague told a news conference. “At the same time, we would say that he must be treated with respect, and any judicial process that follows should be a fair and properly organized judicial process.”
The United Nations Security Council received a briefing from Alain Le Roy, Under Secretary-General and Head of Peacekeeping, at the body’s headquarters in New York following the capture. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a news conference in Washington that, “Former President Gbagbo is now in the custody of President Ouattara’s government. This transition sends a strong signal to dictators and tyrants throughout the region and around the world.
They may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections, and there will be consequences for those who cling to power.”
Clinton added: “We commend the United Nations, the government and the people of France, and other members of the international community who have worked diligently to ensure the safety and security of the Ivorian people throughout this crisis. We also call upon all Ivorians to remain calm and contribute to building a peaceful future for their country. Now the hard work begins.
We look forward to working with President Ouattara as he implements his plan for reconciliation, economic development and recovery.”
Guillaume Soro, the Ivory Coast’s Ouattara-appointed prime minister, has made an appeal to rivals to join the Ouattara camp.
“To all the forces, I make a last appeal to rally [with us] ... there cannot be a manhunt,” Soro said in an address to the Ivorian people carried by French television station i-tele. “Join the Republican forces!”
Initial reports indicated that French troops had captured Gbagbo and turned him over to Ouattara’s forces. But Bamba subsequently told reporters that the arrest operation had been carried out by forces loyal to Ouattara.
“I am clear about that,” he told reporters outside the U.N. Security Council. “That’s the Republican Forces of Cote d’Ivoire who have conducted the operation. Gbagbo is arrested. He is under our custody. . . . Right now, he is being brought to a safe location for the next course of action.”
Bamba said he was confident that as “the news will spread” of Gbagbo’s arrest, his forces “will stop fighting and they will lay down their weapons.” He added: “Those fighting are fighting for nothing, because this man is over, this era is over. We will address the serious problem of the humanitarian situation and the security situation . . . and restore public order.”
For their part, Gbagbo’s supporters dismissed claims that the operation was carried out by Ouattara’s forces, noting that French and U.N. attack helicopters pounded the presidential palace and Gbagbo’s residence.
“It’s absolutely untrue,” said Zakaria Fellah, a Gbagbo loyalist and adviser, who claimed that French ground troops were deployed around the presidential residence. Fellah, who is in the United States, said he has been in constant telephone contact with Gbagbo loyalists in the vicinity of the fighting. “The so-called regime of Ouattara’s forces were completely absent,” he said.
Any Ouattara loyalists who may have played any role in the arrest, he said, were merely “auxiliaries” of the U.N. and French troops. “This operation, the final assault, was carried out by the French troops,” he said.
Fellah said the manner in which Gbagbo was deposed will leave a legacy of deep resentment among his supporters, who will view this as another example of the former colonial power, France, using superior firepower to decide who will rule the country.
Toussaint Alain, a Gbagbo adviser, said the incumbent president had been “arrested by French special forces in his residence” and “handed over to the rebel leaders”.
Jean Marc Simon, the French ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, confirmed the capture to the AFP news agency, saying that he was detained by soldiers loyal to Ouattara.
Meanwhile, forces loyal to Ouattara attacked positions around the state television station [which is still controlled by Gbagbo] and his home.
A French military representative denied that French operations had been co-ordinated with Ouattara’s forces.
Clashes between French and pro-Gbagbo forces were also reported from around the nearby Plateau business district.
Earlier in the day and through Sunday night, UN and French helicopters fired rockets at Gbagbo’s residence in Abidjan. After flying to the Cocody area, where the presidential residence is located, they fired their rockets and returned to the airbase to reload. The process was then repeated.
Two residents from nearby neighbourhoods saw two UN Mi-24 attack helicopters and a French helicopter open fire on the residence, the Associated Press news agency reported.