UN helicopters in Ivory Coast Fire on Gbagbo Army – Witnesses

Witnesses in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan, say U.N. helicopters have fired on an army camp of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo.

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping office in New York, Nick Birnback, told VOA that U.N. peacekeepers took action against the Akouedo army camp Monday at 5 p.m. Abidjan time.

He says the attack was aimed at heavy weapons that pro-Gbagbo forces have been using to attack civilians and peacekeepers. Birnback said the attack was authorized by U.N. Security Council resolution 1975, passed last week.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy says that French troops have been authorized to help U.N. troops disable Mr. Gbagbo’s heavy weapons.

Earlier Monday, forces backing Ivory Coast’s internationally-recognized president, Alassane Ouattara, launched what is meant to be a final offensive to unseat Mr. Gbagbo.

Residents of the city hid in their homes Monday, anticipating a violent showdown between the rival presidents’ supporters. Ouattara’s fighters took control of much of the country last week before entering Abidjan last Thursday.

Mr. Gbagbo still has a band of loyalists who have surrounded the presidential palace in Abidjan, where he is believed to be.

Mr. Ouattara was declared the winner of last November’s presidential election, but Mr. Gbagbo has refused to give up power.

He received a boost late Sunday when his army chief of staff, General Philippe Mangou, left the home of the South African ambassador after seeking refuge there with his family last week. There are reports Mangou has resumed his duties as head of the army.

The international community is calling on fighters for both men to avoid attacking civilians.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara forces are accused of killing civilians in recent days. The International Federation of the Red Cross says at least 800 people were killed in the western city of Duekoue, which pro-Ouattara fighters seized last week.

The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast began moving some of its staff out of Abidjan on Sunday after attacks on its headquarters.

The U.N. says up to 1 million people have fled their homes since the first bout of post-election violence in December. More than 100,000 have fled to neighboring Liberia, with smaller numbers going to Ghana. voa

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