February 28, 2011 / 5:01 PM / 9 years ago

UN can't confirm I.Coast got Belarus choppers-envoys

* UN’s Ban said Ggagbo got attack helicopters from Belarus

* Ban says delivery is violation of UN arms embargo

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Reports that Belarus has delivered three attack helicopters to Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo in violation of U.N. sanctions have not been confirmed, U.N. diplomats told Reuters on Monday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office issued a statement overnight saying that Ban “learned with deep concern that three attack helicopters and related materiel from Belarus are reportedly being delivered” for Ggagbo’s forces.

“The first delivery arrived reportedly on a flight which landed this evening and additional flights are scheduled for tomorrow,” it said. “This is a serious violation of the embargo against Cote d’Ivoire which has been in place since 2004.”

Diplomats said Ban’s allegation was based on reports he had received from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast.

But U.N. Security Council and other diplomats said on condition of anonymity that neither the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations nor the Security Council’s so-called Group of Experts that monitors sanctions violations could confirm the allegation, which Belarus has denied.

A report from the expert group said that as of Monday afternoon in Ivory Coast — parts of which were read to Reuters by several diplomats — it was “able to confirm that no aircraft landed” that would meet the description of Mi-24 attack helicopters.

However, the group said there was a large military presence at Yamoussoukro on Monday, indicating that they might be expecting such a delivery in the near future.

“We’re trying to figure out if this allegation is credible or not,” a council diplomat told Reuters. “There’s a lot of confusion.”

Diplomats said their understanding was that the helicopters were being shipped in parts and had not necessarily come directly from Belarus or with Minsk’s official approval.

A post-election power struggle between Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara, almost universally recognized as winner of a Nov. 28 poll, risks pushing the top cocoa grower back into full-blown civil war.

The 15-nation Security Council had planned to discuss Ban’s allegation on Monday morning but they postponed those talks until there was more information, council diplomats said. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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