Tensions are growing in Ivory Coast between supporters of president Laurent Gbabgo, who refused to step down last november after the presidential elections, and those of Alassane Ouattara, widely recognised as the winner. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Jacques Franquin, the UN refugee agency head in the West African nation, told the BBC that parts of Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan resemble a “war zone”.
“The situation is deteriorating rapidly,” added Mr Franquin.
And safety concerns led the UNHCR to suspend plans to open a camp in the west for those fleeing the violence.
UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast say they are overstretched and cannot provide security for all civilians.
“We are overstretched in terms of patrolling. We conducted over 865 patrols last week. You can’t be in every corner of the city,” UN spokesman Hamadoun Toure told the BBC.
‘Urgent humanitarian assistance’
Violent clashes took place for nearly two weeks in the pro-Ouattara stronghold of Abobo, Abidjan’s northern neighbourhood.
On Thursday at least six women were shot dead there, while they were marching in support of Mr Ouattara.
According to the UN some 200,000 people have fled the area.
“Certain areas of Abidjan are truly in a situation of war with the population fleeing,” Mr Franquin said.
“The situation is making it impossible to reach people who are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance,” he said.
A camp is being set up in Liberia, one of the neighbouring countries, where tens of thousands have fled.
This week the UN has received two helicopter gunships, said Mr Toure, hoping that the arrival of more peacekeepers would improve the security situation.
Although the African Union gave a month to the presidents of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania to start resolving the crisis, this week that time frame was extended until the end of March.