Forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo are repairing an attack helicopter and preparing multiple rocket launchers for use against fighters loyal to his presidential rival, Alassane Outtara, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast says.
In a statement Tuesday, the mission said it was concerned that the heavy weapons — including an MI-24 attack helicopter and BM21 multiple rocket launchers — could be used against civilians as rival presidents struggle for power, VOA reported.
The mission warned Gbagbo forces that the U.N. would act if such weapons were used.
The U.N. and African Union back Outtara as the winner of a November president poll, but Gbagbo has refused to give up power.
Fighting between supporters of the rival presidents has killed more than 435 people and sparked fears that Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower, is on the brink of a civil war.
West African leaders meet as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Wednesday and Thursday in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to discuss the crisis.
Louise Arbour, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and current president of the International Crisis Group, said ECOWAS should mobilize military forces to protect civilians in Ivory Coast.
In an open letter Tuesday, quoted by Bloomberg, she said the regional body should also ask the U.N. Security Council to consider military steps to protect civilians.
“Daily attacks on civilians, including reports of forced disappearances, rapes and torture, continue, and the death toll far exceeds the U.N.’s confirmed count of 440 dead,” Arbour said, according to an e-mailed copy of the letter. Ivory Coast “is no longer on the brink of civil war; it has already begun.”
Ouattara on Tuesday called on the U.N. to authorize "legitimate force" to protect civilians. Ouattara also scolded the mission for not doing enough to protect civilians, saying Gbagbo's security forces had in fact killed more than 800 people, Reuters reported.