THE SPECTER OF GENOCIDE
by Alex Perry
1 The woman had been trapped in her office for three days as fighting rocked the st6reets below and armed gangs roamed. Alexandra had survived on a package of cookies and two cans of soda. Finally, frantic that a promised rescue by a U.N. convoy did not materialize, she ran out of her building and into the dangerous streets, dashing two blocks to a nearby hotel. "This place is paradise," she said to the staff, who took her in and provided her with water and some food, even though they were running low. "This place is paradise."
2 On March 31, millions in the chic, sultry West African city of Abidjan, the center of power in lvory Coast, abandoned their wine bars, high-rise offices and four-lane highways. They barricaded their apartments and watched, terrified, as the battle for their nation swept into town. Forces allied with northerner Alassane Ouattara, who was elected President on Nov. 28, fought troops loyal to southerner Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent, who delayed an election for five years, then refused to go when he lost.
3 Mediation went nowhere, and from March 28 to 30, militias supporting Ouattara captured most of the country. But the battle for Abidjan, a city of 5 million, was always going to be bloody. Gbagbo had surrounded himself with thousands of troops and heavy weapons – mortars, mounted machine guns and artillery – and was believed to be in a bunker under the presidential residence. Its food supplies already low, the city ran so short of water that even Gbagbo's thugs
were knocking on doors begging for a drink. Thirsty civilians braved gunfire to draw water from the city's polluted lagoons.
4 Meanwhile, the specter of genocide hung in the air as Gbagbo's state television urged patriots to defend the nation, broadcasting pictures of bodies in the streets. Northerners and southerners daubed one another's doors with signs to indicate tribal affiliation, a guide to enmity. In the western town of Duékoué, 800 people died in two separate massacres, apparently one by each side. The U.N. estimated that a million people were displaced.
5 Gbagbo seemed to be counting on the world's doing little to stop what sounded like an alltoo-familiar African tragedy. As with other autocrats – Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya – the country would burn. The world would watch in horror but just as quickly turn away. And after all the killing, rape and destruction, Gbagbo would remain.
Time – April 18, 2011
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