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Dutch ship heads for Ivory Coast

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands said on Friday it had sent a naval ship to the Ivory Coast which could evacuate Dutch and other European citizens if post-election violence worsened in the West African nation.

The Dutch defense ministry said the French government had requested assistance from the Netherlands, which agreed to dispatch the ship, the Amsterdam.

While the Dutch foreign ministry said the ship’s mission was connected to the situation in Ivory Coast, the French defense ministry denied any such link.

Dutch defense ministry spokeswoman Marloes Visser said the Dutch ship would be on standby to help in any evacuation, but stressed the main task was to bring food and fuel supplies to the French.

“At the request of the French we will put these supplies on board and bring them to the French ships,” Visser said.

“We can support the evacuation of EU citizens,” Visser said.

“At this moment there is no planning of an evacuation, there are only preparations because you have to be prepared for every situation that can occur and evacuation is one of them.”

“They can evacuate people on board or give some medical support ... there are a lot of possibilities.”

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said the French government had requested Dutch naval support “for the coordinating role that France is playing in ensuring the safety of EU nationals during the current unrest in Ivory Coast.”

It added in a statement that the supply ship Amsterdam would be deployed for a brief transitional period, during which its primary function would be to provide supplies.

“Due to the tense situation in Ivory Coast, a number of preparations are being made to guarantee the safety of EU nationals now present in the country,” the Dutch statement said.

At least 173 people have been killed following the November 28 election, the U.N. said on Thursday, as its human rights body unanimously condemned the political violence and called for reconciliation to avoid a renewed civil war.

The Dutch ship was sailing to the Netherlands from the Gulf of Aden where it had served in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia when the French requested its help.

The ship, a fast combat support ship with a crew of 172, would pick up supplies in Spain and Senegal and should be in position at the start of January.

It is expected to return to the Netherlands in the second half of next month.

French Armed Forces spokesman Nicolas Engelbach said that the logistical support requested of the Dutch ship was for a French vessel in the Gulf of Guinea and that it was not directly related to the situation in Ivory Coast.

“We have had a mission for several years with the presence of a ship in the Gulf of Guinea and our ships can seek logistical help from other vessels,” he said. “This time we have asked for help from the Dutch ship.”

Asked if the presence of the French vessel in the Gulf of Guinea was related to the situation in Ivory Coast he said: “No link.”

A French foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Gerard Bon and John Irish; Editing by Sara Webb and Giles Elgood