Ivory Coast's Gbagbo reportedly surrenders

Image: A pro-Ouattara fighter of the FRCI (Repu
A pro-Ouattara fighter of the FRCI (Republican Force of Ivory Coast), wearing a gas mask, prepares for the so-called "final assault" in front of the Golf Hotel in Abidjan Tuesday.STR / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo has surrendered and asked for United Nations protection, according to an internal U.N. document seen Tuesday by Reuters.

"...President Gbagbo has also surrendered and has asked UNOCI's protection," the document to U.N staff said.

It was not clear from the document whether Gbagbo was physically in United Nations' custody.

Surrounded by troops backing Ivory Coast's democratically elected leader, Gbagbo has been huddled in a bunker with his family while trying to negotiate terms of surrender directly with his political rival, officials and diplomats said.

France's foreign minister said earlier that Gbagbo would be required to relinquish power in writing after a decade as president, and that he must formally recognize his rival Alassane Ouattara, the internationally backed winner of the November election that plunged the West African nation into chaos.

Gbagbo had been talking about the terms for his departure directly to Ouattara, according to a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said two Ivory Coast generals were involved in the negotiations about an exit from power for Gbagbo, who had clung to office since refusing to concede he lost last November's presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.

"As we speak we are speaking to two generals to negotiate President Gbagbo's surrender," Fillon told members of parliament in Paris.

Forces loyal to Ouattara on Tuesday seized the presidential residence, said a senior diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Ouattara has urged his supporters to take Gbagbo alive.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a parliamentary commission that military chiefs in the former French colony also have given orders for a cease-fire.

A senior diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity also said Gbagbo's closest adviser had abandoned him, leaving the bunker to seek refuge inside the French ambassador's home.

(FILES) This file photo taken on February 4, 2011 shows Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo looking on, in Abidjan, during a ceremony to pay tribute to thirty-two members of the National Armed Forces of Ivory Coast (FANCI) that lost their lives during the post-electoral violence, spawned by the November 28, 2010 presidential elections. Gbagbo is apparently "negotiating his surrender," Ally Coulibaly, the ambassador to France appointed by his rival Alassane Ouattara, said on April 5, 2011. AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)SIA KAMBOU / AFP

"Gbagbo is exploring different options for turning himself in," Ouattara spokesman Patrick Achi said Tuesday. "He has been in touch with different leaders involved in this crisis."

A Gbagbo spokesman said the negotiations covered security guarantees for Gbagbo and his relatives.

'End of the crisis'Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the U.N. mission to Ivory Coast, said by phone that "one might think that we are getting to the end of the crisis."

"We spoke to his (Gbagbo's) close aides, some had already defected, some are ready to stop fighting. He is alone now, he is in his bunker with a handful of supporters and family members. So is he going to last or not? I don't know," he said.

Toure said that the U.N. had received phone calls Tuesday from the three main Gbagbo-allied generals, saying they were planning to order their troops to stop fighting.

"They asked us to accept arms and ammunition from the troops and to provide them protection," he said.

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he remained "deeply concerned" by the situation.

"Tragically, the violence that we are seeing could have been averted had Laurent Gbagbo respected the results of last year's presidential election," he said.

He said the U.S. was concerned about reports of massacres in the west of the country, saying people had "suffered too much throughout this period of unrest."

Forces loyal to Ouattara had launched a major assault on Gbagbo's last strongholds in Abidjan, driving home their campaign to oust him.

A Reuters eyewitness said Tuesday that calm had returned to the area surrounding the presidential palace after a day of fierce machinegun and heavy weapons fire — a sign that the conflict could be nearing an end.

"We are in a situation where everything could be resolved in the next few hours," Longuet told a news conference.

Peacekeepers intervened
The U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, supported by the French military, had targeted Gbagbo's heavy weapons capabilities on Monday with attack helicopters after civilians were killed in shelling.

Attacks centered on military bases in the city, but also on rocket launchers "very close" to Gbagbo's Cocody residence, U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said on Monday.

In the north of Abidjan, bullet-riddled bodies lay by the side of the main motorway near the largely pro-Gbagbo neighborhood of Yopougon, evidence of recent fighting between Ouattara and Gbagbo forces, a Reuters witness said.

An armored personnel carrier was pushed across the roadway, still in flames, and residents who had emerged from their houses to find water said they had heard machinegun and heavy weapons fire through the night.

The United Nations human rights office in Geneva on Tuesday expressed concern over the killings of dozens of civilians in Abidjan, amid reports of heavy weapons used in populated areas.

More than 1,500 people have died in the standoff that has rekindled the country's 2001-2003 civil war, though the real toll is likely much higher.