Moral Low Ground

War & Peace

Ivorian President Killing His Own People; 1 Million Refugees Flee, But Unlike Libya, No NATO Intervention

As many as a million people have fled their homes to escape violence in the Ivory Coast, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the BBC report. The crisis began last November after the African country’s longtime president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara after the former lost to the latter in a presidential election that was supposed to reunify the country after nearly nine years of division following a 2002 civil war. Violent clashes have left more than 450 people dead, more than 50 of them this week alone.

According to the UNHCR, panic in Abidjan, the country’s largest city, has reached a new level as thousands of young men have responded to a call to join the ranks of forces loyal to Gbagbo. Entire families are fleeing the city out of fear of being caught up in the fighting and hit by stray bullets. Others are leaving because of near-impossible economic conditions in the city. Banks and businesses have closed, unemployment has skyrocketed and costs have soared for what little food remains in markets.

In a country of 22 million people, the number of refugees represents a significant portion of the population. It would be akin to 14 million  refugees fleeing a crisis in the United States.

According to the BBC, many of those fleeing are migrants from Ivory Coast’s poorer neighbors, who flocked to the country for economic reasons when it was a regional heavyweight. Some Gbagbo supporters have accused the migrants, always easy targets, of supporting Outtara. Migrants and their descendants have been targeted for attacks.

In the western part of the country, residents are fleeing the towns of Blolequin, Duekoué, Toulepleu and Guiglo due to violence and lawlessness. Mercenaries from neighboring Liberia are taking advantage of the lawlessness to loot, rape and kill around Guiglo, while pro-Outtara forces have taken the town of Blolequin. The UN mission in Ivory Coast, which has 9,000 peacekeepers on the ground, accuses pro-Gbagbo forces of shelling pro-Outtara areas, with many civilian deaths reported.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged the UN to impose sanctions against the Gbagbo regime and a draft resolution calls for a travel ban and asset freeze. The EU and some African countries have already taken these measures, the BBC reports. Economic hardship has put a big dent in the country’s cocoa industry– the world’s largest– and has made it difficult for Gbagbo to pay government employees.

But Ivory Coast is not Libya, and there are no plans for any sort of international intervention to stop Gbagbo’s forces from killing their fellow Ivorians. The West, it seems, is quite hypocritical and extremely selective in how it responds to humanitarian crises around the world.



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One Comment

  1. Lauren MMarch 30, 2011 at 6:37 amReply

    Thank you for bringing this crisis to your readers’ attention. The situation is quite dire!!

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