UN non-essential staff moving out of Ivory Coast

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations is temporarily moving non-essential staff from its mission in Ivory Coast out of the country, amid a political crisis there after disputed elections, U.N. officials said on Monday.


U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said that because of security conditions in Ivory Coast, some 460 staff would be temporarily relocated to Gambia, where they would continue their work.


The peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast “will continue to carry out its core mandated tasks,” he said.


The United Nations has been deeply involved in the political turmoil in the world’s leading cocoa producer after its mission chief, Y.J. Choi, certified that challenger Alassane Ouattara defeated incumbent Laurent Gbagbo in a November 28 presidential poll.


Gbagbo, who says the results announced by an independent electoral commission were fraudulent and has refused to cede power, has threatened to expel Choi for interference in internal affairs.


“In the light of the current security situation, a decision was taken on the ground to relocate non-essential staff on a temporary basis,” said Nick Birnback, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping department.


He said this was “not a U.N. evacuation.”


U.N. officials said those being moved were civilians and no reduction was being made in U.N. uniformed troops and police in Ivory Coast, who according to the website of the mission, known as UNOCI, numbered 9,080 as of October 31.


The website says that on that date there were 389 U.N. international civilian staff, 736 local staff and 267 U.N. volunteers working for the mission.


UNOCI went into Ivory Coast in 2004, following a 2003-04 civil war.


Nesirky and Birnback said that, in addition to the UNOCI civilian staff, an unspecified number of people working for U.N. agencies, funds and programs in Ivory Coast would also be moved out.