The stage for a civil war is now set in Ivory Coast as the rebel group- the New Forces- loyal to democratically elected president Alassane Ouattara take positions in small towns ahead of an anticipated battle with government forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo.
The New Forces have launched military operations in the far West and in a northern suburb of the commercial capital of Abidjan, which has been seized by pro-Ouattara gunmen as diplomacy continues to prove futile.
And as tension rises to fever pitch levels in the Ivory Coast, chances are slim for a political solution without sustained pressure on Gbagbo – from Africa and internationally – and a credible threat of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States, experts have suggested.
According to reports, Capt. Leon Kouakou Alla of the New Forces rebellion told reporters his fighters were ready to fight to install Mr. Ouattara who is the recognized winner of the November 28, 2010, presidential election.
Mr. Outatara has been denied his office by the country’s incumbent president Gbagbo who claims he is the winner of last year’s presidential election.
The United Nations estimates the human toll exceeds 365 dead, with reports of unknown numbers of rapes, abductions and disappearances by security forces.
Gbagbo continues to defy African Union (AU) demands for him to step down increasing the threat to peace, security and stability in the country.
Observers on the ground say civilian protection is now a crucial task that should be taken seriously by the U.N. peacekeeping mission, with the strong support of the Security Council and major powers, otherwise a return to civil war is all but certain.
The threats of war was further heightened by recent events involving the AU and the two Ivorian leaders: Gbagbo and Outtara were been invited by the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethioia. Gbagbo ignored the invitation, but Ouattara accepted to go.
As soon as Ouattara left the country, Gbagbo announced that U.N. helicopters were banned from flying over Ivorian soil- a decree aimed at preventing Ouattara from returning to the country.
Over the weekend, United Nations diplomats had expressed concerns over the possibility of Gbagbo’s forces shooting down Ouattara’s helicopter upon his return.
But according to AP, President Alassane Ouattara’s spokesman confirmed Sunday that “the Ivorian leader had returned to Abidjan by helicopter” after his “inner circle had disguised the leader’s travel plans, telling reporters that Ouattara was headed to Senegal and Burkina Faso, when in fact he was already back in the country.”
Analysts had warned that shooting down Mr. Ouattarra’s helicopter by Mr. Gbagbo’s forces would have certainly triggered a full-blown civil war in the cocoa-producing country.