Q. – How do you explain the fact that Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters are regaining ground? Is it a sign that a large sector of the Ivorian army remains loyal to him?
M. SIMON – It’s not a question of the Ivorian army but a few Republican Guard units recruited on an ethnic basis, militiamen who have joined recently and foreign mercenaries. They’re few in number, but they’re still very capable of doing damage.
Q. – Gbagbo is accusing France of waging war against him. After last night’s helicopter gunfire, why doesn’t the French military act decisively to make him surrender?
M. SIMON – We’re in a sovereign country; it’s not for the Licorne force to intervene. Beyond protecting our nationals, its mission consists in acting, if necessary, in support of the United Nations force, UNOCI, to destroy the heavy weapons threatening the population. That’s what it did several times last week and again last night, at President Ouattara’s request, in accordance with UNSCR 1975.
Q. – Your residence at the Embassy has been targeted by Gbagbo supporters. Aren’t you envisaging any counterattack?
M. SIMON – We’ve been the target of intimidatory fire from heavy weapons several times, particularly last Friday afternoon. The Embassy is protected by French units that can intervene in legitimate defence.
Q. – What’s the situation with the regrouping and evacuation of the French? How many citizens are still in Côte d’Ivoire?
M. SIMON – About 4,000 foreign nationals – including more than 2,000 French, 600 Ivorians and 750 Lebanese – have been housed at the Port-Bouët military camp since 2 April. It’s been possible to send half of them to neighbouring countries on military flights. Air France has resumed its scheduled flights, which will facilitate these temporary housing efforts. A few hundred of our compatriots were still in the northern districts of the city on Saturday, and they’re currently being made safe.
Q. – Have you got any information about the two French people kidnapped in Abidjan a week ago?
M. SIMON – Our priority is clearly getting these two compatriots back in good health and securing their release and that of their two colleagues, whatever the inherent difficulties of this chaotic situation. We’re sparing no efforts to achieve that.
Q. – What role is France playing today in the mediation with Laurent Gbagbo?
M. SIMON – We’ve let Laurent Gbagbo know we’re prepared to guarantee his and his family’s safety if he agrees to lay down his weapons and recognize M. Ouattara’s victory in the presidential election. Unfortunately he’s chosen instead to play for time and resume the fighting, at the risk of prolonging the entire population’s suffering.
Q. – How will Alassane Ouattara be able to exert control in a country that’s been so torn apart?
M. SIMON – The challenges to be tackled are indeed considerable, be they rebuilding the social fabric, restructuring the defence forces or resuming economic life.
President Alassane Ouattara’s last address to the nation aroused a lot of hope throughout the country. The very next day, life began to resume in Abidjan. M. Gbagbo’s attacks have once again forced the population to go to ground, with all the humanitarian consequences which that entails.
Q. – Is there a risk of a partition of Côte d’Ivoire?
M. SIMON – The Ivorians have no intention whatsoever of going to war. Whatever their political tendencies, they’re hoping for national reconciliation and development, and they know Laurent Gbagbo is currently the sole obstacle to peace./.