UN investigators have found more than 100 bodies in Ivory Coast in the last 24 hours, victims of what seem to have been ethnically motivated massacres. Some appear to have been burned alive and others were thrown into a well, said a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The killings occurred in three locations in western Ivory Coast, and may have been carried out by Liberian mercenaries, according to the UN.
The discovery came as Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised president of Ivory Coast, said he would not try to capture Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to leave power and is hiding in a bunker under his personal residence. In his first televised address since the siege in Abidjan began this week, Ouattara said he would focus on returning the country to normal to ease the plight of civilians.
The UN team’s discovery underlines the need for an urgent resolution to the crisis, which was brought about by Gbagbo’s rejection of the official election results last November. About 40 bodies were found in Blolequin, west of Duékoué, where another 229 corpses were discovered last week. A further 15 bodies have been discovered in Duékoué, and another 60 were found in the nearby town of Guiglo. Some of the victims were from other countries in west Africa.
Forces loyal to Ouattara were partly blamed for the massacre in Duékoué discovered last week. It is not yet clear who carried out the massacres uncovered on Thursday. “All the incidents appear to have been at least partly ethnically motivated,” said Rupert Colville, the UNHCHR spokesman, in Geneva. “I think one has to be a little bit cautious of assigning responsibilities.” He said ethnic tensions were rising as the conflict continued.
Ivory Coast has a Muslim north and Christian south, and more 60 different ethnic groups. Under Gbagbo’s decade-long rule, particularly in the early days, he tolerated and encouraged an increase in xenophobia, mainly aimed at Ivorians whose parents came from neighbouring countries, as well as the French. Muslims from the north – Ouattara’s main constituency – were also discriminated against, causing much resentment, and a brief civil war.
Following the rapid advance of Ouattara’s forces through the country last week, Gbagbo has been confined to his bunker with his influential wife, Simone. UN and French peacekeeping forces have attacked his military depots to reduce his firepower. But he refuses to surrender, insisting he won the election and blaming France for his predicament.
Many of Gbagbo’s top generals and troops have deserted him, but about 200 soldiers and militiamen equipped with heavy weapons are guarding his home in the upmarket Cocody suburb, according to the French military. They repelled an assault by Ouattara’s fighters on Wednesday. In his television speech Ouattara said his forces were going to set up a security perimeter around Gbagbo’s compound. They would then wait for him to run out of water and food, while at the same time securing the streets of Abidjan, where most people have stayed inside their homes this week due to the heavy fighting.
Ouattara said he would soon end the ban on cocoa exports, which he announced in January. He also asked the EU to lift sanctions on Ivory Coast’s main ports, designed to pressurise Gbagbo into stepping down. In addition, Ouattara requested the Central Bank of West African States to reopen its branches in the country to allow salaries to be paid. He also pledged to hold a public inquiry into any human rights abuses committed during the conflict