UNITED NATIONS – This week's offer by Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo's top three generals to surrender evidently was a "trick" to buy time, the head of U.N. peacekeeping said Friday.
U.N. peacekeeping director Alain Le Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council Friday afternoon that Gbagbo and his military men apparently used Tuesda negotiations with the U.N. as a ploy to consolidate power.
"They said they came to us to negotiate a peaceful exit and that has not happened," Le Roy said of the generals. "It is very clear that the time was used Tuesday during negotiations for Mr. Gbagbo to reinforce his position."
Reports that Gbagbo and his top military men were negotiating a surrender had raised expectations Tuesday that the four-month political standoff in the western African nation was nearing an end.
But Gbagbo later strongly denied that he would give up, and insisted that the presidency was rightfully his.
In power for a decade, Gbagbo refuses to step aside even though the U.N. has ruled that he lost the November presidential election to his political rival Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara remains holed up inside a hotel in the main city of Abidjan.
Acting on a recent Security Council resolution, United Nations attack helicopters on Monday bombarded six arms depots in Abidjan, including a cache inside the presidential compound held by Gbagbo and his supporters.
French forces have also lent military support in Ivory Coast this week, helping rescue the Japanese ambassador and seven others on Thursday.
Le Roy said the U.N. had received requests from nearly two dozen countries as of late Friday to help rescue diplomats from embassies, including the United States, Israel and South Africa. He said he believed some relocations of diplomats were taking place as he spoke.
The Security Council late last month stressed its "full support for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast "to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence ... including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population."
Le Roy said that as of Friday Gbagbo's forces still had many heavy weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades.
He said U.N. forces had taken no offensive action since Monday, when they used a military gunship to keep Gbagbo forces from using heavy weapons against civilians.
Later Friday, Colombian Ambassador Nestor Osorio, this month's council president, said the 15-member body is "very concerned about the continued loss of life and attacks on the civilian population" in Ivory Coast.
He said council members generally favored "a political solution and a political outcome" and were disappointed by Gbagbo's "absolute reluctance" to step aside.