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Gbagbo Forces Fire on UN Team Seeking Belarus Helicopters

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Forces loyal to Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, fired today on United Nations officials seeking to confirm delivery to the airport in Yamoussoukro of three attack helicopters from Belarus.

The UN said in a statement yesterday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon learned with “deep concern” about the arrival of the first shipment of components for the helicopters, which were said to have been sent to support Gbagbo’s bid to remain in office. Their arrival would be a violation of the UN arms embargo imposed on Ivory Coast in 2004, the statement said.

The UN team, including representatives of the peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast and the Security Council-appointed panel of experts, was forced to withdraw from the airport, spokesman Martin Nesirky said today in New York. No injuries were reported.

Nesirky wouldn’t specify the source of the UN’s information that the helicopters were shipped to Ivory Coast. The UN statement said a second shipment was expected today.

“We deny this information,” Zoya Kolontai, the deputy ambassador of Belarus to the UN said in an interview. “This is not true. We observe all obligations posed by the Security Council.”

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, has been divided between a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north since a 2002 uprising of army soldiers. The insurgents back Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the Nov. 28 election. Gbagbo, who has led the West African nation for the past decade, refuses to cede power, alleging voter fraud in parts of the north.

‘War Crime’

Nesirky said there has been a “turn in the nature” of fighting in Ivory Coast.

Gbagbo may have “lost control” of militant groups in the West African nation, Young-jin Choi, head of the peacekeeping mission said today. UN troops are sustaining “very serious attacks” from security forces loyal to Gbagbo who may be committing a “war crime” against the peacekeepers, he told reporters in Dakar, Senegal.

The Associated Press reported that one of the militias, the Young Patriots, today kidnapped two UN employees from the Ukraine.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Cohen in Johannesburg at mcohen21@bloomberg.net; William Varner in New York at wvarner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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