UN points to Ivory Coast ‘extra-judicial killings’

The UN official investigating alleged abuses in Ivory Coast after a disputed election says he has evidence of extra-judicial killings. Simon Munzu told the BBC his staff had verified some cases, while others were reported by families. But he said a campaign of intimidation by incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters appeared to have receded. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is travelling to Abidjan to help try and resolve a post-election stalemate. Mr Gbagbo has so far refused demands from the world community to stand down in favour of his rival in the 28 November presidential polls, Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognised as the victor. Mr Odinga, the African Union’s epresentative, is due to travel from Nigeria – where he has held discussions with President Goodluck Jonathan – to meet Mr Gbagbo and Mr Ouattara.

Peacekeepers from the UN mission (UNOCI) have been instructed to do all they can to investigate sites of alleged human rights violations, but say security forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo have twice blocked them from visiting the site of one of two alleged mass graves. The Gbagbo government has repeatedly denied the existence of any mass graves. The UN has also expressed concern that some of the homes of opponents to Mr Gbagbo have been marked to identify the ethnicity of their occupants, indicating signs the country could be heading for ethnic violence. Speaking to the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme, Mr Munzu said the UN had received many reports of killings. “In some cases the information has bee verified by our own staff of the human rights division right across [Ivory Coast] but for others we rely on information reported by family members,” he said. He cited an example of a report from one person who said his uncle and another man disappeared before their bodies were found in a mortuary with signs of “foul play”.

Ivory Coast mass graves investigation launched by UN

UN peacekeepers have been ordered to do everything in their power to investigate reports of atrocities and mass graves in Ivory Coast, where post-election violence is alleged to have left more than 200 people dead. The instruction came as the opposition leader Alassane Ouattara repeated his call for the international criminal court in The Hague to send a mission to examine the actions of troops loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo. In a new year’s message Gbagbo made clear he would continue his game of brinkmanship despite pressure from the UN and world leaders for him to avoid a return to civil war by standing down and allow Ouattara to enter office. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, phoned Ouattara yesterday. “The secretary-general told President Ouattara that he was alarmed by the reports of egregious human rights violations,” a UN spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said. The UN believes up to 80 bodies may have been moved to a building in a pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood in the capital, Abidjan. Investigators have tried to visit several times, and even made it to the front door before truckloads of armed men forced them to leave. A second mass grave is believed to be located near Gagnoa in the interior of the country, according to the UN mission in Ivory Coast, known as UNOCI.

Ouattara has asked for the ICC to send a mission to investigate reports of post-election violence committed by pro-Gbagbo forces. Ouattara reiterated that request during his phonecall with Ban. The UN has said the once-divided volatile west African country faces a real risk of renewed civil war, but a top ally of Ouattara said this conflict has already begun. “In any country that records more than 200 dead in five days, as the UN has certified, it’s war,” his prime minister, Guillaume Soro, told the Associated Press. “When … more than 20,000 Ivorians … leave their country to seek refuge in a country like Liberia, it’s war.” International pressure is set to intensify tomorrow with three presidents from the west African regional bloc, Ecowas, planning a second round of talks with Gbagbo to try to persuade him to cede power to Ouattara or face an operation to remove him by force. The African Union said today that the Ecowas delegation would be joined by Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, whose electoral dispute with President Mwai Kibaki in 2007 led to ethnic bloodshed in which at least 1,133 people died. Gbagbo has shrugged off a threat by the AU to unseat him by force. “You should not count on foreign armies to come and make [Ouattara] president,” he said in a television interview yesterday. “I therefore extend my hand so we can talk.” Gbagbo supporters who were called on to remove Ouattara from the Golf hotel on New Year’s Day failed to materialise as UN Bangladeshi riot police guarded the entrance.

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