JOHANNESBURG â€” Ivory Coastâ€™s Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to concede defeat in elections or in battle, was seized by opposition forces Monday and taken to the hotel where his rivalâ€™s government was based, according to French and U.N. officials.
The capture came after French helicopters, acting at the request of the United Nations, unleashed heavy overnight attacks on a bunker at the presidential residence where Gbagbo was holed up. French tanks closed in early Monday, but the arrest was made by the forces of Gbagboâ€™s rival, Alassane Ouattara, according to French officials.
The arrest was confirmed in an email by an aide to Ouattara. â€œYes, we got him,â€ said Lacina Kone, the aide.
Ivory Coastâ€™s ambassador to the United Nations, Youssoufou Bamba, also confirmed Gbagboâ€™s arrest at a briefing in New York, saying the former president was â€œalive and well and will be brought to justice.â€
Bamba said Gbagbo was captured by Ivorian security forces and taken to a â€œsafe place.â€ He said that as news spread of Gbagboâ€™s arrest, Bambo expected loyalist fighters to â€œlay down their weapons.â€
Gbagboâ€™s wife, Simone, and son, Michel, also were captured.
Ivory Coast was thrown into crisis after elections last November. The balloting was observed and certified by the U.N., which declared Ouattara the winner. Gbagbo, however, refused to cede power.
The two rivals both had themselves sworn into office, and each appointed his own government.
Talks, mediated by the African Union, dragged on for months with no resolution. Two weeks ago, Ouatarraâ€™s forces launched attacks across the nation and rapidly advanced to Abidjan, the nationâ€™s commercial capital and largest city, where they met fierce resistance from Gbagbo loyalists.
Most of Gbagboâ€™s heavy weapons had been destroyed a week earlier in attacks by U.N. and French helicopters, but his residence remained heavily fortified.
Outtaraâ€™s forces tried last week to dislodge Gbagbo but were driven back by a force of about 200 heavily armed soldiers.
Before Sundayâ€™s renewed attacks by French forces, Ouattara had asked for U.N. help to remove Gbagboâ€™s remaining heavy weapons. He issued a statement Sunday saying Gbagboâ€™s continued use of heavy weapons against civilians, ambassadorsâ€™ residences, the U.N. mission and the Ouattara governmentâ€™s headquarters at the Golf Hotel put civilians at risk and undermined hopes for peace.
Many civilians had been trapped without food in their houses in Abidjan for days by heavy fighting, particularly in the upscale Cocody district, where the presidential residence is located.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said pro-Gbagbo forces had continued to launch attacks on the world bodyâ€™s peacekeepers, diplomats and civilians, and the military action Sunday and Monday was required to stabilize Abidjan and bring peace.
â€œThese actions are unacceptable and cannot continue,â€ Ban said in a statement before Gbagboâ€™s capture. He said Gbagbo had used a cease-fire last week to consolidate his military position in Abidjan.
France had announced early last week that Gbagbo was on the brink of surrender, only to see him repudiate the claim and launch strong counterattacks against Ouattaraâ€™s forces.
In the days after the cease-fire, Gbagbo loyalists managed to win back territory in the Cocody and Plateau neighborhoods, where the presidential residence and palace are located.
By then, however, most of his top military officials and rank-and-file soldiers had deserted or changed sides, leaving only die-hard loyalists and militias to support Gbagbo.