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U.N. Chief Rebuffs Ivory Coast Leader's Demand That U.N. Forces Leave

(Audio avalable further in this article)

UNITED NATIONS—United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rejected Sunday an order by Ivory Coast's embattled President Laurent Gbagbo that all U.N. peacekeepers leave the country immediately, after the U.N. repulsed Ivorian soldiers who opened fire on their base, leading to the death of an Ivorian soldier.

(To listen to this article, click on the player below)

{play}media/mp3/art1546.mp3{/play}

 In response to Saturday's request, Mr. Ban said the U.N. will "fulfill its mandate and will continue to monitor and document any human-rights violations, incitement to hatred and violence, or attacks on U.N. peacekeepers." He added: "There will be consequences for those who have perpetrated or orchestrated any such actions or do so in the future."

A disputed presidential election has thrown the west Africa nation into turmoil, pitting supporters of Mr. Gbagbo against his challenger, Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Gbagbo appears to retain the loyalty of Ivory Coast's security forces, but Mr. Outtara is backed by former rebel leaders and their forces, many of whom fought in the 2002-2003 civil war.

The U.N. has certified Mr. Ouattara as the winner and protects his hotel where the challenger has been residing and working in the wake of the disputed Nov. 28 runoff. Mr. Gbagbo, who has ruled since 2000, has refused to step down. On Friday, Mr. Ban called on Mr. Gbagbo to leave the presidency without delay.

"The international community must send this message, loud and clear. Any other outcome would make a mockery of democracy and the rule of law," he said.

Mr. Gbagbo's camp has complained that the U.N. and its peacekeeping mission haven't remained neutral in the country's presidential elections.

The U.S., the European Union and the African Union also all endorse Mr. Ouattara as the legitimate winner. The U.S. and the EU are considering sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo if he doesn't relinquish power.

The assault on the U.N. base has ratcheted up tensions. The firefight erupted at the U.N. mission headquarters in the Plateau area of the commercial capital, Abidjan, in the early hours of Saturday, said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq.

Although the mandate for the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire, UNOCI, is set to expire Dec. 31, the U.N. Security Council would have to vote to withdraw the 9,000 U.N. troops. The council is set to discuss the matter on Monday.

The French government also would have to make a decision on the fate of 900 French peacekeepers. There was no immediate response from French officials to Mr. Gbagbo's demand.

The tensions have stoked fears of another civil war, which was earlier fought by factions from the northern and southern parts of the country. Mr. Ouattara is from the north and Mr. Gbagbo from the south.

On Thursday as many as 30 people were killed when Ouattara supporters tried to take over the state radio station. Fighting also took place at the hotel where Mr. Ouattara is holed up with his supporters. About 800 U.N. peacekeepers are guarding the hotel.

By JOE LAURIA
Source : WSJ

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