The Catholic aid agency issues a hard-hitting statement in the wake of violent conflict in the West African country

The Catholic aid organisation Cafod has issued a hard-hitting statement about the humanitarian situation in Ivory Coast.

Cafod, which is engaged with relief work on the Liberian Ivorian border, has called for the appointment of a separate United Nations humanitarian coordinator to lead the humanitarian response in a country which has been torn by violence between the militias of two rival contenders for the presidency.

The official aid agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also said there needed to be a renewed focus on the UN’s humanitarian assistance work because the international organisation had become associated with political decisions about the fate of Ivory Coast.

The statement said: “The humanitarian situation caused by the conflict in Ivory Coast has reached a critical level. Cafod is gravely concerned for the people made homeless by new fighting around the capital Abidjan and for the more than 100,000 refugees who have fled to neighbouring Liberia.

“Humanitarian actors have been increasingly compromised in their ability to deliver aid to those in need. They have been denied access to people affected by the conflict, and have themselves become targets for attack by armed groups. On March 30th the Director of Cafod’s sister agency Caritas Côte d’Ivoire was kidnapped and held for four days whilst trying to rescue young seminarians trapped by surrounding fighting in the capital city Abidjan.

“The situation in the very near future will demand impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance as the two conflicting sides seek to live side by side. The UN has been perceived as taking a political position in the post election stalemate between Laurent Gbago and Alessane Ouattara, using its peacekeeping force (UNOCI) to protect Ouattara at his makeshift offices in the Golf Hotel, Abidjan, combined with the recent military actions of the peacekeeping mission.

“Cafod would like to see the immediate appointment of a full time, dedicated Humanitarian Coordinator to take charge of coordinating humanitarian action and ensure that people in need are not left without life saving humanitarian assistance such as water, food, medicine and shelter. Such a post, separated from other UN responsibilities would enable a greater degree of independence and neutrality for humanitarian action.

“Cafod expresses grave concern at the massacre of an estimated 800 people on March 30 in the south western town of Duekoue. The future for Ivory Coast will remain bleak if steps are not taken to negotiate a peaceful solution. The humanitarian crisis will only intensify, with the real danger of continued massacres, rapes and reprisals against civilian populations. The role of the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in supporting national actors to reach a mediated solution is vital, as discussions about a government of national unity, a truth and reconciliation commission and even a unified armed force may be the only way to avoid further conflict.”

French troops seized the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo after a drawn-out siege of the presidential palace on Monday. The country descended into armed conflict after Mr Gbagbo refused to cede power to Mr Outtara who had the backing of the United Nations following an election last year. The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, reported that the conflict has displaced almost a million people.