BOUAKÉ, Ivory Coast — French and United Nations helicopters fired missiles on Sunday at key positions held by forces loyal to the entrenched strongman Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, the country’s economic capital, partly destroying Mr. Gbagbo’s residence, according to one of his top aides.
The United Nations said the attacks were part of its “neutralization” campaign against heavy weapons that Mr. Gbagbo has used against the civilian population. The presidential palace and Mr. Gbagbo’s residence, where he has taken refuge, were targets on Sunday, a United Nations spokesman in Abidjan confirmed.
The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, suggested Sunday that Mr. Gbagbo’s camp had fooled Western powers seeking his withdrawal by pretending to engage in surrender negotiations last week. “They in fact used that time to regroup their forces and redeploy heavy weapons,” Mr. Ban said in a statement from New York.
Mr. Gbagbo then used those weapons against civilians and the United Nations headquarters in Abidjan, as well as the Hotel du Golf, the headquarters of Alassane Ouattara, who heads Ivory Coast’s “legitimate government,” Mr. Ban said in the statement.
Indeed, Mr. Gbagbo appeared to be gaining ground militarily, recapturing several strategic neighborhoods in central Abidjan and even lobbing shells at the residence of the French ambassador, spokesmen in Paris and New York said.
The attacks on Sunday, though, could be a setback for Mr. Gbagbo, who has refused to leave office since losing an election in November. Reached by telephone, Désiré Tagro, Mr. Gbagbo’s chief of staff, sounded shaken and angry after the helicopter attacks, saying that Mr. Gbagbo had been in the bedroom of his residence when they occurred and that the residence had been partly destroyed, with smoke rising from it.
“This is planned murder,” Mr. Tagro said. “The French are stronger than we are; there is nobody to say no to them. We don’t have the military means to respond to the French.”
A resident of the downtown Plateau neighborhood who watched the attack from his window said that French Gazelle combat helicopters had fired at least five missiles at Mr. Gbagbo’s residence, and two at the presidential palace. Two United Nations Mi-24 helicopters also fired missiles at the palace, he said, and afterward he watched as a French Puma helicopter flew low over the central lagoon separating the palace from the Hotel du Golf and fired its 20-millimeter gun at Mr. Gbagbo’s positions on the heights of the Cocody neighborhood, where the residence is located.
Mr. Gbagbo’s renewed pugnacity, before Sunday’s attack, appeared to make unlikely a quick resolution of the military confrontation between him and Mr. Ouattara that is ravaging Abidjan. A major strategic target, the state television station, was retaken last week by Mr. Gbagbo’s forces — providing once again an outlet for the nonstop campaign against the French and the United Nations that Mr. Gbagbo has waged so successfully.
Three days ago, after launching rocket-propelled grenades at the United Nations headquarters at the Sebroko Hotel, Mr. Gbagbo’s armored personnel carriers, mounted with heavy machine guns, attacked civilians in the Adjamé and Attecoubé neighborhoods, which contain many Ouattara supporters, Mr. Ban said. Hundreds sought refuge at the United Nations headquarters.
Then, on Saturday, Mr. Gbagbo’s forces attacked the Hotel du Golf directly for the first time, “from several directions,” Mr. Ban said in the statement. “These actions are unacceptable and cannot continue.”