Ivory Coast: Besieged Gbagbo 'in basement' of residence

The BBC's Andrew Harding watched pro-Ouattara fighters head into Abidjan

Ivory Coast's defiant President Laurent Gbagbo is sheltering with his family in the basement bunker of his residence in the main city, Abidjan.

Troops loyal to Mr Gbagbo's rival, UN-recognised President Alassane Ouattara, say they have surrounded the compound.

Mr Gbagbo's foreign minister, Alcide Djedje, says there is now a ceasefire, but this is not confirmed by pro-Ouattara forces or the UN.

The UN says Mr Gbagbo's military and civilian advisers are leaving him.

Negotiations over departure?

"We are witnessing new developments on the political front in Abidjan," said the UN mission in Ivory Coast (Unoci) in a statement.

"Mr Gbagbo's closest advisers, both military and civilian, are leaving him while, with a handful of persons, he is known to have retreated to the basement bunker of the presidential residence."

Mr Gbagbo has refused to leave office even though the Ivorian election commission declared him the loser of November's run-off vote, and the UN certified the result.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has said Mr Gbagbo is in negotiations over his departure.

Ivory Coast: Battle for power

  • World's largest cocoa producer
  • Once a haven of peace in West Africa
  • Ouattara recognised as president-elect in 2010
  • International sanctions imposed to force out Gbagbo
  • Hundreds killed, one million have fled
  • 9,000 UN peacekeepers monitor 2003 ceasefire

Asked if he knew of such negotiations, Mr Juppe said: "We are aware."

He added: "If there are possibilities to see him leave power, then we are ready."

Mr Gbagbo's army chief, Gen Philippe Mangou, told the AFP news agency his troops had stopped fighting.

"Following the bombardment by the French forces on some of our positions and certain strategic points in the city of Abidjan, we have ourselves stopped fighting and have asked the general commanding Onuci for a ceasefire," Gen Mangou said.

Gen Mangou deserted last week, but was said to have returned to the fold on Monday after an apparent change of heart.

Mr Djedje, speaking from the French embassy in Abidjan, told the BBC the "war is over". As he spoke, shooting could be heard in the background.

UN and French helicopters attacked targets around the compound on Monday.

Pro-Ouattara forces said earlier they had already overrun the residence.

They say there are a number of non-uniformed militiamen firing at them from buildings as they try to advance through the city.

Many civilians remain trapped in their homes. Food, water and electricity are scarce in the city of about four million people after days of fighting.

Forces loyal to Mr Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund economist, began a dramatic military offensive last week, sweeping in from the north and west.

Patrick Achi, a spokesman for Mr Ouattara, told the BBC earlier that if Mr Gbagbo were captured, he would be arrested and "brought to justice".

Russian criticism

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the raids launched on Monday evening against Mr Gbagbo's arsenal were to stop attacks on civilians.

UN Mi-24 helicopters are reported to have bombarded five targets: Mr Gbagbo's residence, a republican guard base, state television headquarters, the Akban paramilitary base and the Akouedo arms depot.

A resident in Abidjan says his house shook as the UN and French bombing raids took place

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said that a UN Security Council resolution authorised such action.

The use and calibre of heavy weapons by Gbagbo forces had, he said, escalated sharply in recent days.

Unoci had also been under almost continuous attack, he said.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "We are now looking into the legal side of the issue because peacekeepers had a mandate which requires them to be neutral and impartial."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement he had authorised the 1,600-strong French Licorne force in the country to help the UN military response.

Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960, but has hosted French peacekeepers since its civil war almost a decade ago.

The French military says it has about 1,900 foreigners under its protection in Abidjan, and nearly 450 others have already left the country.

The UN has sent an envoy to investigate a massacre of hundreds of civilians in the western town of Duekoue last week.

Each side has blamed the other for the killings, which the International Committee of the Red Cross says claimed at least 800 lives.

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