UN commanders in Ivory Coast have been urged to respond more robustly to provocation by forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo, but are balking at actions that could drag their peacekeeping troops into a shooting war, diplomats said.
The UN Security Council meets on Tuesday to authorise the deployment of a further 2,000 uniformed personnel to join the 9,000-strong UN military and police force in Ivory Coast. Three armed helicopters would also join the peacekeeping contingent.
One of the tasks of the force has been to protect the hotel in Abidjan where Alassane Ouattara – seen by the UN as the victor in the recent disputed presidential election –is based.
Some observers fear that Mr Gbagbo’s intention is to provoke an incident that would force peacekeepers to respond with force, thereby escalating the conflict.
At least 247 people have been killed in violence between the supporters of Mr Gbagbo and Mr Ouattara since the election, the UN human rights office said on Friday.
Ban Ki-moon, the world body’s secretary-general, told the UN General Assembly on Friday he expected all member states to support the peacekeeping force fully in the robust execution of its mandate.
Mr Ban later told a press conference that UN peacekeepers were mandated to protect the civilian population, but “practically speaking, there have been obstructions”. Referring to an International Criminal Court probe into the events, he stressed that attacks on UN forces and civilians were against international law.
He said the UN had “concrete intelligence” that Mr Gbagbo was inciting his followers to use violence against peacekeepers as well as their fellow citizens.
Force commanders fear escalating confrontations with Gbagbo forces. Diplomats described tactics in which Gbagbo loyalists lay in the path of UN vehicles, forcing them to turn back from peacekeeping patrols.
Diplomats said Alain Le Roy, civilian head of UN peacekeeping, had been instructed to urge force commanders to adopt more robust tactics while avoiding confrontations.