Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president of Cote d'Ivoire, has been arrested after a raid by French forces on a bunker at his residence in Abidjan.
Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president of Cote d’Ivoire, has been arrested after a raid by French forces on a bunker at his residence in Abidjan.
Toussaint Alain, a Gbagbo advisor, told the Reuters news agency that 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 Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised president-elect of the country.
A Ouattara spokesman told Al Jazeera that Gbagbo, along with his wife and several advisors, was being held by at the Golf Hotel.
The hotel has been used as Outarra’s headquarters since a disputed presidential poll in late November.
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general, told Al Jazeera that Gbagbo surrendered to pro-Ouattara forces, and is now being held at the Golf Hotel under the protection of the UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI).
French officials denied that French special forces had detained the incumbent president, saying that the arrest was made by forces loyal to Ouatarra.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, spoke with Ouattara on the telephone at length shortly after Gbagbo’s arrest, AFP reported.
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.
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.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from the city, said five helicopters were used in the attack on Sunday and that they flew from a French airbase.
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 neighborhoods saw two UN Mi-24 attack helicopters and a French helicopter open fire on the residence, the Associated Press news agency reported.
One resident reported seeing smoke rise from the compound. An AP reporter saw the same three helicopters take off from the French military base minutes before he heard explosions coming from the direction of the residence.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he has given orders to use “all necessary means” to stop Gbagbo”s heavy weapons.
“The continued use of heavy weapons against the civilian population and our peacekeepers, as well as the attack against the headquarters of the legitimate government, have compelled me, once again, to instruct UNOCI to use all necessary means to prevent the use of these weapons, pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1975 (2011) and 1962 (2010),” Ban said in a statement.
“We are pursuing our operation to neutralise Gbagbo heavy weapons. We had to stop the operation for a couple of days to evaluate and have realised that there are still some heavy weapons that they had used against civilians and the UN,” Hamadoun Toure, a UN spokesman, said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Toure said UN helicopters were only targeting heavy weapons sites and not Gbagbo himself.
“We are not trying to take control of his residence … Our objective is not to capture anybody,” Toure said.
Sunday’s violence comes after forces loyal to Gbagbo fired on Outtara headquarters on Saturday.
Gbagbo spokesman Don Mello denied that his forces had targeted the hotel, and said that the incumbent leader was calling on all supporters to fight against foreign forces deployed in the country.
Gbagbo, who has ruled Cote d”Ivoire since 2000, is defended by about 1,000 men, while the UN peacekeeping mission has about 12,000 troops.
Lawyers for Ouattara had earlier demanded that the UN and France “neutralise” Gbagbo”s forces so that he could be put before a court.
They have described forces loyal to the incumbent president as “an illegal occupation force”.
Al Jazeera”s Mutasa said that heavy shelling and gunfire rang out through the evening on Sunday, with plumes of smoke visible from the direction of Gbagbo”s residence.
Toussaint Alain, a Gbagbo adviser who resides in France, confirmed the attack, while Ahoua Don Mello, a Gbagbo spokesman, said the residence was “partially destroyed”.
Our correspondent also reported fighting near the Agban military base.
“We”re hearing from people who live there that the fighting is ongoing, it”s been on and off for the past few hours,” she reported.
“The residents who are closest to that base say some of them have fled and they are hiding in a nearby market until the fighting has died down. People seem very, very afraid.”
Ouattara forces blamed
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights watchdog, meanwhile, has accused forces loyal to Ouattara of killing hundreds of civilians, raping Gbagbo supporters and burning villages during an offensive in the country”s west.
Daniel Bekele, HRW’s Africa director, warned that while international focus appeared to be on Abidjan, violence and rights abuses were occuring across the country.
People interviewed by the group described how pro-Ouattara forces “summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush.”
The report said that many of the abuses occurred from March 6-30, as villages in the west including Toulepleu, Doke, Blolequin, Duekoue and Guiglo fell to pro-Ouattara forces.
At least 400 Ivorians have been killed in fighting between the two sides and tens of thousands have sought refuge in neighbouring Liberia, according to the UN.