Ivory Coast Unrest Forces Up to 1 Million to Flee Abidjan, UN Estimates

As many as 1 million people have fled violence in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said, as France’s ambassador to the UN warned the West African nation was “very close to civil war.”

Escalating insecurity following a disputed presidential election Nov. 28 has led to “a sharp rise in displacement,” Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva today. Between 700,000 and one million people have no fled the city, she said.

While the international community recognizes Alassane Ouattara, 69, as the winner of the election, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, 65, refuses to concede defeat, alleging voter fraud. France called for a UN Security Council meeting today on the conflict and is circulating a draft resolution that would let UN peacekeepers use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because the text hasn’t been made public.

France’s ambassador to the UN, Gerard Araud, told reporters the country faced a ‘humanitarian tragedy’ as it moved towards war.

‘Horrendous’ Suffering

Senior UN officials including the high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, said fighting and “massive population displacement” may spill over into neighboring Liberia. Speaking yesterday in the Liberian capital Monrovia, they warned that rival Ivorian camps may try to recruit mercenaries in Liberia and smuggle weapons across its borders.

“This conflict has to stop,” Guterres said in a statement after meeting Ivorian refugees in eastern Liberia, where the UNHCR says more than 90,000 people have sought shelter. “The amount of human suffering is horrendous. All neighboring countries can be dramatically impacted.”

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council today passed a Nigerian proposal to launch an independent commission of inquiry to investigate “allegations of serious abuses and violations of human rights,” according to a statement on its website.

At least 52 people, including five children and seven women, have been killed in Ivory Coast since March 17, the UNHCR said in a statement from Geneva. The agency said at least 462 people have died in fighting in the West African nation and that the situation is deteriorating.

Health Care

Doctors Without Borders said spiraling violence in Ivory Coast is threatening the population’s access to health care as medical workers flee and supplies and drugs become unavailable.

Health authorities in Abidjan say almost all medical workers in six hospitals have fled and only one facility in the Abobo neighborhood is functional, according to the international medical organization. Medical teams there have treated 273 emergency patients in the past three weeks, 225 of whom had bullet wounds, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement.

The UNHCR expressed specific concern about a call to arms by Charles Ble Goude, the leader of the Young Patriots, a youth movement that supports Gbagbo. Ble Goude called on the youth to join the army and “liberate the country” from their opponents, the UNHCR said.

At least 5,000 young people this week queued up to enlist in the army.

“This is a worrying development with potentially severe implications for the already deteriorating human-rights situation in the country,” the UNHCR said.

With reporting by Jason McLure in Accra.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at jfreedman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net.

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