UN and French helicopters opened fire on Sunday at the presidential residence in Abidjan, the largest city of Cote d’Ivoire, local residents reported.
The airstrike was witnessed one day after forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo attacked the Golf Hotel, the headquarters of his presidential rival Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognized and posed as the country’s head of state on television this week to order the restoration of security.
Gbagbo, who has been holed up in a bunker since a week ago, seems to step up resistance, with the resumption of the state television broadcast under his control on Friday and the shelling of the hotel the next day.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI) on Sunday confirmed the attacks by its helicopters, saying the strike aimed to “neutralize” Gbagbo’s heavy weapons.
Pro-Gbagbo sources admitted that the air raid partially destroyed the presidential residence, where Gbagbo is still staying. The sources repeated the charges that France sided with rebels in the 2002-2003 civil war and are attempting to assassinate him again in another coup.
ONUCI and the French Licorne sent attack helicopters on Monday to boost the offensive by Ouattara’s Republican Forces on Gbagbo’s last bastions, including his residence in Abidjan’s Cocody district.
With the air-borne attack, the Republican Forces breached the defense line and came near the goal of their “final battle,” after faltering for some time because of the stiff resistance from around 1,000 pro-Gbagbo troops, who were reportedly equipped with artillery, armored vehicles and other heavy weaponry.
Both ONUCI and Licorne said they were acting on the recently adopted UN resolution 1975.
Ouattara announced a blockade around the Gbagbo’s residence after his troops tried another assault on Wednesday, but failed to take it. In his first televised address to the nation, the internationally recognized president also voiced post-Gbagbo measures, including discipline, order, security and humanitarian relief in Abidjan.
The Republican Forces launched a military blitz last week, sweeping south to take a series of towns before entering Abidjan.
The war, which was triggered by the disputed presidential run-off on Nov 28, is the second since 2002 when the country was divided into the south controlled by Gbagbo and the north held by the ex-rebel New Forces, the backbone of the newly formed Republican Forces.
In their renewed civil war, both sides are held responsible for slaying civilians.
Human Rights Watch accuses Ouattara’s forces of killing hundreds of civilians, while linking forces loyal to Gbagbo to the massacre of more than 100 in retaliation.
Although Ouattara is being urged to form a government of national unity, Gbagbo’s supporters are vowing no national reconciliation without the 65-year-old outgoing president, who has repeatedly rejected international calls for ceding power to Ouattara.
The international community recognized Ouattara as the president-elect after Cote d’Ivoire’s electoral commission declared him the winner of the election. Gbagbo insists that he was the victor citing the ruling of the country’s Constitutional Council, which invalidated the election results published by the electoral commission.