Ivory Coast Looks Like the Place for First Crisis of 2011

With Ivory Coast’s defeated incumbent president still refusing to step down, British officials have said that their country would support the use of United Nations-sanctioned military force to resolve the situation.

While William Hague, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary has said that the U.K. is not about to deploy British troops to the African nation, they are taking a number of other diplomatic measures to bring an end to the political stand-off, reports Britain’s Press Association.

The race between President-elect Alassane Ouattara and incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo was tight, and President Gbagbo refuses to leave office, even though Ouattara is recognized as the victor by the international community. Gbagbo still maintains control of the nation’s armed forces and Ouattara and his supporters are currently trapped in a hotel.

The U.K. is already taking a number of measures to ensure that Gbagbo hands over power to Ouattara. Britain has given “very strong support” to the Ivory Coast neighbors who recognize Ouattara as the rightful president, supported the United Nations Security Council’s efforts to renew the mandate to keep U.N. forces there, worked with the European Union to take restrictive measures against Gbagbo, and British diplomats are keeping close ties with Ouattara and his inner circle, reports BBC.

“It is time for him to recognize that he must go,” said Hague in an interview with BBC radio. “He should not underestimate the determination of the international community that the will of the people of that country should be recognized and a democratic transfer of power take place.”

Despite the international pressure, the situation in the Ivory Coast remains fragile. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that the West African nation could be on the verge of civil war. Gbagbo’s “Street General,” Minister for Youth Charles Ble Goude called on Ivorians to storm Ouattara’s hotel, which is currently being protected by the U.N., on New Year’s Day, reports Agence France-Presse.

Youssofou Bamba, the Ivory Coast’s new U.N. ambassador warned that his nation may even be on “the brink of genocide.”

There are concerns that Gbagbo’s security forces could be hiding mass graves, reports Euronews. U.N. officials say they are concerned that a building in Abidjan, the largest city in the Ivory Coast, could have as many as 80 bodies. Human rights groups have accused Gbagbo loyalists of abducting and torturing Ouattara supporters. Gbagbo’s forces have refused to allow the U.N. access to the building.

The United States also has been closely monitoring the situation. On Tuesday, Obama administration officials dispatched a Pentagon team to Abidjan to look into evacuating U.S. diplomats and citizens, reports The Washington Post. The U.S. and France also said they are “exploring the prospect of reinforcing the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast.” According to U.N. officials there are no plans to add to its 9,000 troops currently stationed there.

There appear to be mixed reactions to the U.N. peacekeeping forces, with some people showing support and others openly hostile. In the last two days, two U.N. patrols were attacked, reports Reuters.