Around 3,000 people have taken refuge at Catholic missions
Hundreds of people fleeing battles in Cote d’Ivoire's Abidjan have taken shelter in Catholic missions, a priest said on Monday, amid UN concerns about illegal arms deliveries and attacks on peacekeepers, reports the BBC.
About 1,800 people had sheltered in a mission in the city's northern Abobo suburb at the weekend after last week's fighting, Augustin Obrou told AFP. Nearly 1,000 more were in a mission at Anyama further north, the priest said.
They had escaped deadly clashes last week between forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down as president after being declared loser of November elections, and fighters believed to back his rival Alassane Ouattara.
Entire families had moved into the missions, Obrou said. Food and other supplies had been handed out but were inadequate, he said.
"We were not prepared for this," the priest said. "People are tired, frightened," he said, raising concerns that the missions could also be attacked.
The fighting in Abobo, a stronghold of Ouattara who is internationally recognised to have won the November 28 elections, erupted last week as the dragging dispute over the presidency inflamed tensions.
Residents said the area turned into a battle zone as the pro-Gbagbo army started clashing Tuesday with fighters from a former rebel movement and defected troops believed to support Ouattara.
The fighting, as well as unrest in the west of the country, has seen a surge in refugee numbers, with thousands crossing into Liberia, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said last week.
Obrou said some of the people sheltering in the missions were headed elsewhere. "But others stay because they don't know where else to go," he said.
An Abobo resident told AFP the area remained tense on Monday although there had been no new outbreak of fighting since Saturday.
"There is a problem with food, all the shops are closed," he said. "People are worried, they are staying at home."
Water and power supplies were cut again on Monday, after being reconnected on Sunday.
UN special envoy Choi Young-Jin said Monday peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire faced outright hostility from troops loyal to Gbagbo.
"There is a transformation from moderate harassment to acts of direct hostility, which are extreme," Choi told journalists in Dakar after a meeting with UN representatives from the West Africa region.
Referring to an attack on three peacekeepers in Abobo, Choi said "there was direct shooting from pro-Gbagbo soldiers and we responded."
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon meanwhile called for an urgent Security Council meeting on Cote d’Ivoire following reports that three attack helicopters and related materiel from Belarus were being delivered to forces led by Gbagbo.
The first delivery arrived reportedly on a flight which landed late Sunday, and additional flights are scheduled for Monday, a spokesman for Ban said.
"This is a serious violation of the embargo against Cote d’Ivoire which has been in place since 2004," the spokesman said.
"Belarus has never violated Security Council sanctions," Belarus foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh told AFP. "There is an efficient system to control weapons exports in Belarus," he said.