The fighting in Ivory Coast took a crucial turn on Tuesday with the forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara reportedly capturing the presidential residence.
BBC reported that president Laurent Gbagbo's residence has been taken by the opposition forces led by the country's internationally recognized president, but there was no confirmation on whether Gbagbo was inside.
A spokesman for Ouattara reportedly said the opposition forces were searching for Gbagbo and that the defiant president will be brought to justice if he were found.
The opposition advance was ably assisted by UN and French forces whose heavy shelling helped neutralize Gbagbo's weaponry. Former colonial rulers France took control of the key airport near Abidjan and accepted the UN request to participate in the military operation aimed at ousting Gbagbo. The UN is aiming to end protracted violence in the country which has killed hundreds of people and displaced more than a million.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the 9,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission was carrying out a limited military operation to protect civilians.
However, Gbagbo's followers have criticized the unprecedented UN action and accused the world body of taking sides. “I’m personally shocked by the U.N.’s behavior in Cote d’Ivoire. It is not part of their mandate to carry out offensive attacks against Ivorian institutions,” Gbagbo's foreign policy adviser Zakaria Fellah said. “The U.N. has not been an impartial player, but rather, a party taking sides with Ouattara’s people.”
However, the UN has stood its ground, saying Gbagbo has attacked civilian areas and UN facilities. “The security situation has deteriorated dramatically over the past days with fighting having escalated between forces loyal to President Ouattara and those forces remaining loyal to Mr. Gbagbo,” Ban Ki-moon has said. He said the escalation of the conflict is the direct consequence of Gbagbo’s refusal to step down from power.
The fall of the presidential palace could mean an end is in sight to the months-long stand-off that began with the presidential election in November last year.
Ivory Coast, which came out of a vicious civil war in 2003, nearly slipped into similar crisis when Gbagbo refused to relinquish power though the county's election commission declared he lost the election.