U.N. troops in Ivory Coast have already opened fire in self-defense and are ready to do it again to defend their mandate, which includes protecting civilians, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Monday.
"We have the right to open fire in the case of self defense or in defense of the mandate," U.N. undersecretary-general for peacekeeping Alain Le Roy told Reuters in a telephone interview. "There have already been some attacks on our peacekeepers, and we had to fire back."
"That's the mandate for our peacekeepers all over the world," he added.
It was not clear, however, how the 10,000-strong U.N. force would react in the event of an outbreak of renewed civil war. U.N. officials say privately that their troops will not go into battle against one army or another.
Several U.N. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the U.N. force in Ivory Coast, known as UNOCI, believes it killed a member of the armed forces loyal to incumbent President Laurent Ggagbo on Saturday who fired on U.N. troops. UNOCI is still trying to confirm the death, they said.
After the United Nations said Gbagbo lost a run-off election last month to rival Alassane Ouattara, Ggagbo ordered all blue helmets -- the nickname for U.N. peacekeeping troops -- out of the country. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has rejected that demand and said UNOCI would remain.
Ouattara is holed up in a hotel in the main city of Abidjan protected by UNOCI.
Ivory Coast's pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council has rejected the U.N.-certified results that declared Ouattara the winner. It says Gbagbo won the election.
"It is clear that President Gbagbo will try to harass our mission by cutting supplies to the mission," Le Roy said. "He's already cutting supplies to the mission, and he's already harassing the civilians of our mission."
He reiterated that the United Nations was determined to stick it out in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer.
"The security situation is of grave concern, but the determination of the (peacekeeping) mission remains the same," Le Roy said. "We have a mandate, the mandate was renewed by unanimity. We will fulfill our mandate despite the very delicate and dangerous circumstances."
The U.N. Security Council on Monday extended the mandate of UNOCI for another six months.