Monday, April 11, 2011

French Forces arrest Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo

U.N. peacekeepers and French troops launched military operations against loyalists of longtime strongman Laurent Gbagbo on Monday.

After a week of heavy fighting, forces backing Ivory Coast’s internationally recognized leader on Monday arrested strongman Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to leave the presidency, French diplomats said. He was seen soon after in a hotel guarded by U.N. peacekeepers.

Alassane Ouattara 
 An eyewitness at the Golf Hotel where election winner Alassane Ouattara had been trying to run the presidency said he saw Gbagbo, his wife and son enter the hotel around midday Monday. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The capture came after French military forces in this former French colony deployed tanks for the first time near a bunker at the presidential residence where Gbagbo had reportedly been hold up with his family.

A senior adviser to Ouattara said French and Ivorian forces captured Gbagbo, but Cmdr. Frederic Daguillon, the French forces spokesman in Abidjan, said French forces were not involved in Gbagbo’s arrest.

“There wasn’t one single French soldier at the residence of Laurent Gbagbo,” he said.

Ouattara’s radio station confirmed Gbagbo’s arrest. Official word first came from the French Embassy in Abidjan.

The French since the beginning of the conflict in Ghana’s western neighbor have made it clear that they were out there to implement a UN mandate. And together with UN Forces, they’ve been mounting sustained military attacks on Gbagbo’s forces until today, when Gbagbo’s arrest was announced. The crisis in Ivory Coast seem to have gone beyond simply an elections dispute to one of ethnic dimensions as the north pit itself against the south.

While the fighting was going on between Gbagbo’s supporters on one hand and Ouattara’s supporters with the backing of the UN and French Forces on the other, there were many innocent civilians who became victims of the conflict. Some were obviously caught in the cross-fire while others were specifically targeted by armed men from both sides. News and photo reports from Ivory Coast show that armed men from both camps were committing heinous crimes against opponents and perceived enemies. Some people were killed extra-judicially and there are videos making the rounds on social networking sites of some people being burnt alive.

The capture of Gbagbo could make some believe that the conflict would be brought to a speedy end, but it might not end so soon. Examples in Liberia say it won’t end soon.

During the outbreak of the Liberian civil war in 1989, most believed that if the then incumbent Samuel Doe was taken out of the scene, there would be peace in Liberia, but after his capture and brutal killing in the hands of Prince Johnson’s men who displayed the decapitated body of the former military leader in public, the war did not end immediately.

While the international community believe that Ouattara won the November 2010 election run-off, Gbagbo and his supporters believe he had won.

Hopefully, the International Criminal Court (ICC) would look into the matter diligently and prosecute suspects who have committed atrocities against unarmed civilians. No war criminals should be left off the hook.

Now that Gbagbo has been captured by the French and handed over to Ouattara, would Ivory Coast see peace?

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