UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations has pulled nearly 400 civilian staffers out of restive Ivory Coast, fearing fresh unrest when the Security Council slaps sanctions in the next few days on people blocking the peace process, U.N. officials said on Thursday.
The temporary evacuation leaves another 800 U.N. civilians still in the country along with some 11,000 U.N. and French peacekeepers, said Pierre Schori, the U.N. special envoy for Ivory Coast.
"This is a temporary measure we are taking," Schori told reporters after briefing the Security Council. "Given the vitriolic messages we hear on the radio and in the media, we think that the next few days are not going to improve very much the situation."
Several Security Council members, meanwhile, predicted long-delayed asset and travel freezes would be imposed within the next few days against two or three individuals.
While council diplomats have said repeatedly in recent days that sanctions were in the works, they said the latest delay was to allow for the evacuation of non-essential U.N. staff in case of violence when the targets of the sanctions are announced.
"No decision has been taken today but I think that we are very close to a decision," French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said.
Youth leader Charles Ble Goude was still expected to top the list of sanctions targets, said several council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ble Goude heads the Young Patriots group, fiercely loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo, that helped spark four days of chaos across southern and western Ivory Coast last week, aimed at pressuring U.N. and French personnel to flee the country.
Four youths were shot dead by U.N. troops when protesters burst into their base in Guiglo trying to seize weapons and vehicles. Hundreds of peacekeepers then evacuated Guiglo and three other bases in the western region near Liberia.
FOOD AID LOOTED
The World Food Program, which had been helping feed 13,000 refugees from Burkina Faso and Liberia in the town of Guiglo, withdrew staff from there after its offices were looted and its warehouses robbed of 683 tonnes of food aid.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR also removed staff from the town, where armed government militias wield a lot of power.
Pro-government rioters who were summoned into the streets by local radio burned down the UNHCR's local offices and destroyed agency cars and equipment in last week's unrest.
The anti-U.N. protests began after foreign mediators overseeing the implementation of a U.N. peace plan advised against renewing the expired mandate of the parliament, made up largely of Gbagbo supporters.
The protesters condemned this as foreign meddling in Ivory Coast's affairs.
Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, has been torn in two since a 2002 civil war launched by rebels hoping to oust Gbagbo from power.
Thousands were killed in the fighting and more than 1 million uprooted from their homes. Rebels still hold the north while the government controls the south.
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