By Samuel Rubenfeld
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said an alleged shipment of three helicopters from Belarus to Ivory Coast is “a serious violation” of an embargo in place on the African nation since 2004.
The statement from Ban’s spokesperson, issued late Sunday night, said one helicopter was already delivered to the government of Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power despite being the internationally recognized loser of a November 2010 election. The other two helicopters were scheduled to be delivered Monday.
Ban demanded “full compliance” with the arms embargo, warning the supplier and Gbagbo that “appropriate action will be taken in response to the violation.” He directed U.N. peacekeepers to “take all necessary action, within [their] mandate, to ensure that the delivered equipment is not prepared for use.”
Belarus denied shipping the helicopters, according to a separate AFP report.
“Belarus has never violated Security Council sanctions,” the Belorussian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh told AFP. “There is an efficient system to control weapons exports in Belarus.”
Forces loyal to Gbagbo opened fire on Monday on the U.N. peacekeepers tasked with following up on the secretary-general’s orders, according to a U.N. source who spoke to AFP.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said both Ban and President Barack Obama “expressed their concern about the violence there” during a Monday meeting at the White House.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the helicopters, armed with machine guns and missiles, are believed by the U.N. to be a variant of what is known as an Mi-24 in Russia and as a Hind gunship in the West.
Delivery of the aircraft could risk escalating the conflict between Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara that Ban has said teeters on the brink of civil war. Ouattara operates his government from a U.N.-protected hotel.