Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs on Tuesday welcomed ex-President Laurent Gbagbo’s arrest the previous day and stressed that the Côte d’Ivoire will achieve national reconciliation only by bringing criminals “from both sides” to justice.
Some MEPs from the ALDE, GUE and ECR groups questioned the role of French and UN troops in ousting Mr Gbagbo.
Following Mr Gbagbo’s detention by Alassane Ouattara’s forces at his residence on Monday, Chair of the Election Observation Mission to Côte d’Ivoire Christian dan Preda (EPP, RO), welcomed his arrest and hoped it would put an end to the bloody four-month standoff since the contested presidential election (28 November).
“The big challenge ahead now will be the national reconciliation and running a country which has been in crisis for 10 years already”, he said.
“How can the EU now help add independence to justice?” asked Johannes Van Baalen (ALDE, NL). Supporters of both the Gbagbo and Ouattara military forces committing crimes must be brought to a fair and credible trial, said Mr Van Baalen. This was echoed by other MEPs, including Michèle Striffler (EPP, FR) and Sabine Lösing (GUE/NGL, DE).
Supporters of both sides have been accused of perpetrating massacres during the stand-off and ensuing conflict, with mass graves reportedly found near Abidjan and hundreds killed or raped in the western town of Duekoue.
Split opinions on role of UN and French troops
Soldiers from France’s Licorne (“Unicorn”) forces and from the UN peacekeeping force had been pounding Mr Gbagbo’s forces since April 10 in a bid to destroy the heavy weapons they were reportedly using against civilians. France said its military had taken part in the weekend raids at the request of UN chief Ban Ki-moon and denied having played a direct role in Mr Gbagbo’s arrest.
In the Foreign Affairs Committee debate, MEPs were split on the role played by these troops. Conservative MEPs dan Preda (RO) and Ioannis Kassoulides (CY), spoke in favour of their intervention. “I welcome the assertiveness of the UN and Unicorn in ending hostilities swiftly and protecting civilians. This could become an example of how to put an end to other crises”, said Mr Kassoulides.
Some ALDE, GUE and ECR MEPs, by contrast, were critical. “I feel a little uneasy, like many other colleagues, about the type of intervention by UN and French troops in attacking Gbagbo’s presidential residence”, said Slovenian MEP Ivo Vajgl (ALDE), adding that “some people may fear we are returning to the nineteenth century and colonial times”.
It is unusual for the UN to participate in offensive operations of this kind, in contrast to its lack of attention to o ther conflicts in the region, like that in Zimbabwe, noted Geoffrey Van Orden (ECR, UK).
Ms Lösing wondered whether France had consulted the External Action Service (EAS) before ntervening. “The UN intervened so clearly in favour of one side of the conflict. Is the UN intention really to protect civilians from both sides? Is neutrality being respected?”, she asked.
EAS representative Nicholas Westcott replied that the UN had given quite a robust mandate for protecting civilians, strengthened by the UN resolution 1975. “There was an evolution on the interpretation of this mandate according to the increase of hostilities”, he said, adding that “the operation yesterday was a logical continuation of the mandate to tackle heavy weapons and detain Mr.Gbagbo for the crimes it is believed he has committed”.