UN slaps sanctions on Ivory Coasts strongman

United Nations: The UN Security Council has unanimously imposed sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freeze on Ivory Coast`s strongman Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and close aides.

The resolution, which came five days after Nigeria and France introduced a draft resolution expressing concern that the country could relapse into a civil war, calls on Gbagbo to stand down from presidency of the West African nation.

Gbagbo has refused to accept Alassane Ouattara as the lawful winner of the November presidential polls.

While voting in favour of imposing sanctions on the Ivory Coast`s incumbent leader, India blasted the tendency of hurrying to adopt Security Council resolutions.

"We also want to place on report our growing concern at the tendency to hurry the process of adopting resolutions," India`s envoy Hardeep Singh Puri told the Security Council.

"We think that there should be enough time for deliberations and consultations with all concerned countries," he said, noting that it was "imperative" to consult countries that contributed peacekeepers.

India also raised objections to the UN siding with Ouattara and said that its 10,000 strong peacekeeping force (UNOCI) should not be part of the political stalemate in that country.

"They (peacekeepers) cannot be made instruments of regime change," Puri said. "The UNOCI should also not get involved in a civil war, but carry out its mandate with impartiality and ensuring safety and security of peacekeepers and civilians."

China also took a similar stand like India on this point.

"China always believes that the UN peacekeeping operation should strictly abide by the principle of neutrality," said Li Baodong, the Chinese envoy, noting that UNOCI should avoid becoming a party to the conflict.

The UN has warned that the world`s largest cocoa- producing country is on the brink of the civil war.

Other countries said that the Security Council had to act quickly to protect civilians. More than 450 people have been killed since December and one million people have been displaced inside the country. More than 77,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Liberia.

"Events are moving fast on the ground, the security situation continues to deteriorate, and the position of civilians is of increasing concern," said Philip Parham, Britain`s deputy envoy to the UN.

American ambassador Susan Rice said that the Council had met several times find a solution to the ongoing conflict and put pressure on Gbagbo to step down.

"Mr Gbagbo and his supporters can continue to cling to power, which will only lead to more innocent civilians being wounded and killed, and more diplomatic and economic isolation," she said.

Following a disputed election, Gbagbo and his rival Ouattara have been fighting to take power in Ivory Coast. The country`s election commission and a UN team have recognised Ouattara as the winner of the elections.

Reports from the ground yesterday suggested that the Ouattara`s forces had gained some ground. The New York Times reported that Ouattara`s forces had taken control of Yamoussoukrou, the political capital.