* French draft would also ban heavy weapons from Abidjan
* West wants tougher action by U.N. peacekeepers (Adds U.S. comment)
By Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, March 25 (Reuters) - France and Nigeria circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Friday that would impose sanctions on strife-torn Ivory Coast’s incumbent leaders and ban heavy weapons from the Abidjan area.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters the 15-nation council was expected to discuss the draft resolution in detail next week. It was not immediately clear when the text could be put to a vote.
Speaking after a closed-door council meeting on Ivory Coast, Araud said that “we are very close to a civil war” in Abidjan, where clashes are intensifying between forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo and those of his rival Alassane Ouattara. [ID:nLDE72O0ZX]
The United Nations and African organizations say challenger Ouattara defeated Gbagbo in presidential elections in the West African state, the world’s leading cocoa producer, last November. But Gbagbo says he won and has refused to quit.
The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, echoes previous U.N. calls for Gbagbo to step down, forbids heavy weapons, and provides for sanctions against Gbagbo and his close advisers.
An annex to the draft lists the associates as Foreign Minister Alcide Djedje, Gbagbo’s wife and senior figure in the Ivorian Popular Front Simone Gbagbo, the front’s chair Pascal Affi N‘Guessan, and the secretary-general of Gbagbo’s presidency, Desire Tagro.
They would be subject to asset freezes and travel bans. All except Djedje have already been sanctioned by the European Union. Araud said further names could be added.
The draft lays responsibility for protecting civilians on the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, which it noted is authorized to use “all necessary means” to do so.
It stressed “the need to seize heavy weapons used against (the) civilian population, within its capabilities and its areas of deployment.” Araud said this effectively meant Abidjan, the country’s main city and commercial center.
Western diplomats on the council have for some time been urging the force, known as UNOCI, to adopt tougher measures, but U.N. officials say it is hampered by a concern to avoid harming civilians. They say Gbagbo supporters in civilian clothes have repeatedly sought to obstruct its efforts.
But Araud said the council had been assured by the U.N. peacekeeping department “that UNOCI is going to respond in a very robust way to attacks.” In recent days it had shot back at Gbagbo’s forces, he said.
Atul Khare, deputy head of peacekeeping, suggested in a report to the council that the U.N force was already doing all it could in a difficult situation. Gbagbo has sought unsuccessfully to order the force out of the country.
“The mission is making every effort, within the challenging circumstances it faces ... to ensure that the mandates provided by you ... are implemented on the ground,” Khare said.
The draft resolution also asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to send to the International Criminal Court the findings of a commission set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council to look into crimes in Ivory Coast. The court is already holding a preliminary probe into the situation there.
Araud said he believed there was a majority in the Security Council in favor of calling on Gbagbo to go. But it is not clear whether all members of the council will support all the other measures in the French-Nigerian draft.
Going into Friday’s council meeting, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin commented sarcastically to journalists, “Another big war -- it’s just what we need.” Russia has sought to tone down previous Security Council pronouncements on Ivory Coast.
The United States, however, backed France and Nigeria. “We strongly support this draft resolution,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. (Editing by Christopher Wilson)