7 UN peacekeepers killed in Ivory Coast ambush: UN

Niger UN peacekeepers patrol in a street of Abidjan in 2011.  By Issouf Sanogo (AFP/File)
Niger UN peacekeepers patrol in a street of Abidjan in 2011. By Issouf Sanogo (AFP/File)

ABIDJAN (AFP) - Seven UN peacekeepers from Niger were killed in an ambush in western Ivory Coast Friday, in the deadliest attack on the force since its deployment in 2004, a UN spokesman said Friday.

Deputy Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi said the attackers crossed over from neighbouring Liberia, adding that two Ivorian soldiers and at least one civilian may also have been killed.

"According to an initial tally, seven Niger peacekeepers lost their lives in an ambush in the west of the country," the spokesman said, adding the UN denounced the "very serious violation of international law."

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said he was "outraged" by the killings of THE seven peacekeepers and warned that more UN troops remained in danger.

"I understand that their colleagues are still in danger," Ban told reporters.

"Even tonight, after the attack, more than 40 peacekeepers remain with the villagers in this remote region to protect them from this armed group."

He added: "My thoughts are with these brave peacekeepers and the community they are protecting."

According to a UN source, the peacekeepers were patrolling in an area between two villages after hearing rumours of an imminent attack on communities in the region.

"There's panic in the villages, many are fleeing into the forest, others are heading for Liberia," a resident of Para village told AFP by phone.

The mayor of nearby Tai village, Desire Gnonkonte, confirmed that residents were fleeing.

Ivory Coast's west is by far the most unstable part of the country and has been plagued by deadly attacks since a political and military crisis that started at the end of 2010 and left some 3,000 people dead throughout the country.

In a report published Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said at least 40 people have been killed since July 2011 in raids the group blamed on fighters loyal to Ivory Coast's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo was captured on April 11, 2011 and has been in custody in The Hague since November on allegations of crimes against humanity.

"The attackers came from Liberia," Koffi said, adding that they numbered around 50 and had crossed the river that marks the border before descending on the villages of Saho, Para and Nigre.

"We think these are the same groups who have been responsible for all the attacks in the area in recent months," he said.

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Ivory Coast, Bert Koenders, condemned the unprecedented ambush against the UNOCI troops.

The seven "were part of a patrol that was on a mission south of the locality of Tai, in a zone where UNOCI recently strengthened its presence due to threats of attacks against the civilian population," a statement said.

UNOCI was first deployed to the west African country in 2004 and currently counts more than 10,000 uniformed personnel.

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