I. Coast's Gbabgo orders UN vehicles searched

AP , Friday 21 Jan 2011

Car search orders are seen as part of Gbagbo's continued harassment of UN in dispute over Ivory Coast election which UN says Gbabgo had lost

Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo is ordering the military to stop and search UN vehicles, in the latest escalation of hostilities between the man who refuses to leave office and the global body that declared his rival the election winner.

The move comes after a series of attacks on UN vehicles and peacekeepers in the volatile West African nation. Last week, mobs and security forces allied to Gbagbo attacked at least six UN vehicles, setting some ablaze and wounding two people.

"I think it is pretty safe to say that it would not be legal to search (the vehicles)," UN spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian in Geneva told The Associated Press on Friday.

"This is just one more type of harassment." Col. Hilaire Gohourou announced the order on state television Thursday evening.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned the violence directed at UN personnel, saying it constitutes crimes under international law.

Gbagbo's government already has tried to order UN peacekeepers out of the country, claiming that they are no longer impartial after the UN certified election results showing Alassane Ouattara won the 28 November presidential runoff vote.

The UN Security Council voted Wednesday to send an additional 2,000 troops.

While Gbagbo continues to occupy the presidential palace, the internationally recognized winner of the vote has been forced to live barricaded inside a hotel.

Ouattara is being protected by a cordon of some 800 U.N. peacekeepers, who have turned the Golf Hotel into a fort surrounded by barbed wire.

The West African bloc of countries known as ECOWAS has threatened to oust Gbagbo by force if negotiations fail, but has set no deadline for such an intervention.

Ivory Coast was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-2003 civil war. The country was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, but the long-delayed presidential election was intended to help reunify the nation.

But at least 260 people have been killed in violence since the vote. The UN said Thursday that nearly two dozen girls and women also had been raped in the country's west.

The UN also cited one case where it said security forces loyal to Gbagbo had used sexual torture techniques on at least one Ouattara supporter.

There was no immediate reaction from Gbagbo's camp, though his spokesman has previously denied allegations that security forces were behind cases of abduction and torture.

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