US Embassy Côte d’Ivoire: Staff Shelters in Place as Bloody Battle Reaches Abidjan

Map of Abidjan with Cocody highlighted.Image via WikipediaThe following is from a Warden Message posted on March 31, 2011 from the US Embassy in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.  Note that the embassy went on ordered mandatory departure for non-emergency personnel and family members last December (see US Embassy Abidjan goes on Ordered Departure | Diplopundit | Dec 20, 2010).

Prior to the evacuation, the U.S. Embassy Abidjan was reported to have 58 direct-hire Americans and 310 LE staff.  Since the embassy remains open, a smaller staff of emergency core-personnel continue to work at the embassy; the notice below to US citizens confirms that embassy employees have been instructed to shelter in place and to restrict their movements:  

As armed conflict continues to escalate, particularly in and around Abidjan, Embassy Abidjan urges U.S. citizens in Cote d’Ivoire to carefully review their personal security and make appropriate any immediate plans for their safety.

Since December 2010, the State Department has warned U.S. citizens of the danger of traveling to Cote d’Ivoire and has urged those who remain in Cote d’Ivoire to depart the country while commercial means of transport are available.  If you have chosen to remain in Cote d’Ivoire despite these warnings, you should shelter in place in the event of armed conflict.  If you have plans to depart the country in the next few days, review your plans carefully to ensure that you are able to leave safely.

Embassy personnel have been instructed to shelter in place during coming days and to restrict their movements, especially after dusk.   U.S. citizens who believe they cannot depart safely should do the same. While the Embassy remains open with a limited number of U.S. employees many consular services have been curtailed, including visitor visas processing.  Our ability to provide the full range of consular services, including visas and requests for non-emergency citizenship services, is greatly diminished.  U.S. Embassies outside of Cote d’Ivoire are generally able to assist people who ordinarily live in Cote d’Ivoire.

The Embassy currently has no plans to evacuate U.S. citizens and advises citizens not to wait until it is too late to make plans.  If there is a decision to provide evacuation assistance, the destination is generally to a safe haven in the region, and not the United States.  Once an evacuee arrives at a safe haven country, U.S. citizens are expected to take care of themselves.   Please watch for further updates from the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan.  Such information updates will be made available as circumstances change.  

Read the full notice here.

VOA, earlier today reported that it was a full day of fighting in Abidjan as forces loyal to the internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara battled troops still loyal to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo:

They fought near Gbagbo’s home in the Cocody neighborhood and around the presidential palace downtown.

Gbagbo’s whereabouts are not known. He has not been seen in public since the fighting began. There was brief TV footage of him on state-run television late Thursday joking with a dozen supporters.

The spokesman for the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, Hamdoun Toure, said the U.N. is willing to facilitate Gbagbo’s departure, but he has not yet responded to that offer.

While pro-Ouattara troops moved quickly to capture the capital Yamoussoukro and the port of San Pedro, Gbagbo appears to have far-more-determined defenders in Abidjan, despite the defection of army chief of staff, Philippe Mangou, who has sought refuge with his wife and children in the home of the South African ambassador.

Read in full here.

The blog, Texas in Africa has posted quite a grim account from somebody hiding out in Abidjan in a “barricaded room in our house in darkness.” 

The US embassy is located in the Cocody district of Abidjan, also considered the diplomatic district.  The presidential palace is located in the same district.