West African states have given their backing to a proposed UN arms embargo on both sides of the conflict in Ivory Coast. Leaders of six countries, meeting in an emergency summit in Nigeria, took the decision on the eve of a UN Security Council debate on whether to impose a ban. The group also said two previous deals signed in July and in January of last year provided the only credible route to peace in Ivory Coast. Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo was not at the meeting.
Hostilities between his forces and rebels who control the north of the country have flared up again in recent weeks. Government warplanes killed nine French peacekeepers in what the Ivorian military said was an attack intended to target rebel positions.
As the African leaders met Gbagbo said he had not ordered the airstrike, which killed the French soldiers. He added he was not an idiot and that it would only take minimum intelligence not to fire on French or UN troops. France, the country’s former colonial ruler, sent a force to work alongside UN peacekeepers.
Supporters of the president, who believe Paris shares the rebels’ aim of ousting Gbagbo, have attacked French citizens living in Ivory Coast. That has sparked an exodus of mainly European foreigners. French President Jacques Chirac has ruled out any withdrawal of French forces.