Laurent Gbagbo has banned U.N. and French flights from flying over the country, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed president of Ivory Coast told CNN Thursday.
"They are now like a company for the rebels," Gbagbo spokesman Ahoua Don Melo said in a telephone call from Abidjan. The move was made "to stop the transportation of the rebel forces around the country," he added.
He was referring to the supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who was recognized by independent election observers as the winner of last November's presidential runoff election but has been unable to take power as long as incumbent Gbagbo -- who has alleged election fraud -- has refused to step aside.
The spokesman denied that the ban was put in place to prevent Ouattara, who traveled this week to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend an African Union meeting, from returning to Ivory Coast. Ouattara can return to the country through other means if he wishes, he said.
The announcement was met with scorn by a spokesman for the French Foreign Minister. "Laurent Gbagbo's decision is worthless and void," the spokesman said. "Let me remind you that the U.N. and French forces are mandated by the U.N. Security Council and by the 1962 resolution, which guarantees them complete freedom of movement."
He added, "France demands that Gbagbo stop preventing the actions of the U.N. and French forces and cease the violence against civilians."
In Geneva, Switzerland, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Thursday that human rights violations against civilians in Ivory Coast are increasing, with killings occurring daily during the past week.
U.N. human rights officers have said at least 392 people have been killed in Ivory Coast since mid-December, including at least 27 in the past week.
"Overall, the situation appears to be deteriorating alarmingly, with a sharp increase in inter-communal and inter-ethnic confrontations," Pillay said. "Human rights abuses, including rapes, abductions and killings are being committed by people supporting both sides."