Troops blamed for mass graves in Ivory Coast

 

Government forces in Ivory Coast have been accused by the United Nations of a spate of extra-judicial killings targeting supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo, including a 17-month old baby.

Mass graves have been discovered in an opposition neighbourhood of the business capital Abidjan. The UN mission recorded 26 killings, as well as rapes and illegal arrests in the past month. The reported reprisals will add to concerns that the internationally supported new leader, Alassane Ouattara, has broken promises over reconciliation in the deeply divided West African nation where a contested election led to civil war this year.

"The new government must avoid becoming drunk with power in the manner of its predecessors," said Gilles Yabi, from International Crisis Group. "There must be justice for all if there is to be no repeat of disasters of the last two decades."

Mr Ouattara, a former IMF economist, took power in April with the military backing of France and controversial air strikes by a UN peacekeeping force under the guise of protecting civilians. Mr Gbagbo, who refused to cede power after narrowly losing a presidential run-off against Mr Ouattara last November, was eventually battered into submission and dragged from his bunker.

The post-election fighting in Ivory Coast displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are afraid to return to their homes because of the government-backed militias, according to Amnesty International. The rights watchdog said ethnic killings and abuses continued after President Ouattara came to power.

A number of leading figures from the Gbagbo regime are facing trial for alleged crimes committed while in power, but so far none of Mr Ouattara's backers has been arrested despite compelling evidence of human-rights abuses.

"The [UN] has documented 26 cases of extra-judicial killings, 85 arbitrary arrests and 11 cases of rape," said Guillaume Ngefa, the peacekeeping mission's human-rights officer. He said that eight mass graves had been uncovered in Youpougon, a Gbagbo stronghold in Abidjan.

On Thursday, Ivorian security forces arrested 57 soldiers from the former regime – all accused of war crimes committed against Ouattara supporters.

"The risk is that now they have the majority, they start to say that they don't need the rest of the country to rule," said Crisis Group's Gilles Yabi. "That would be a mistake: Ivory Coast needs an inclusive government and that means justice for all."

Much of Mr Ouattara's support comes from the north of the country in areas controlled by the rebel Forces Nouvelles. A four-month stand-off followed Mr Gbagbo's refusal to cede power before rebels allied to the election winner swept south.

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