UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council on Thursday renewed the mandate of its peacekeeping force in the Ivory Coast but reduced its size despite persistent ethnic violence in the west of the country.
In a resolution adopted unanimously, the council said the operation -- known by its acronym UNOCI -- should "reinforce their field presence (...) in areas where civilians are at greater risks, particularly but not only in western Cote d'Ivoire."
The council nevertheless decided to cut a battalion from UNOCI's military component, leaving 8,837 soldiers, while keeping the police component unchanged at 1,555.
At the same time, the Security Council added three armed helicopters to the force, which will be taken from the UN Mission in Liberia. They were to be used to patrol the border between the two countries.
Western Ivory Coast has long been beset by ethnic tensions fueled by land disputes.
At least 12 people were killed and 40 others injured in July 20 attacks in Duekoue, according to the United Nations.
A big crowd from the town raided the camp for 5,000 displaced people on its outskirts, in reprisals for the death of five individuals allegedly killed by people from the camp.
Most camp residents come from the Guere ethnic group, which has tense relations with the Malinke people, who made up most of the attackers, according to witnesses.
The northern Malinke are considered to be supporters of President Alassane Ouattara, while the Guere were held to back former president Laurent Gbagbo, who clung to power for about four months after losing an election in late 2010.
The changes made to UNOCI by the Security Council were in response to recommendations by the UN secretariat, which has been cutting spending on peacekeeping missions around the world.
After the Security Council vote, Ivory Coast's ambassador to the United Nations, Youssoufou Bamba, deplored the reduction in size of the peacekeeping force, but said that with the redeployments to the west there would be no security vacuum.
The resolution said the "protection of civilians shall remain the priority for UNOCI" but that greater emphasis should be placed on supporting the demobilization of militias and reforms of the security apparatus.
Revamping the army remains one of the principal challenges confronting Outtara, who took office in 2001 following the election crisis, which ended in two weeks of warfare that left about 3,000 people dead.