Ivory Coast's president-in-waiting, Alassane Ouattara, has denied United Nations charges that his men massacred hundreds of civilians in the west of the country during last week's military offensive. Reports have been emerging of a mass killing in the western town of Duékoué, where thousands of civilians are sheltering from the fighting in a Catholic Mission.
A joint team from the UN and the Catholic charity Caritas which visited the town to investigate the incident said that up to 1,000 people had been killed or "disappeared". Caritas said it did not know who was responsible for the killings but UN officials said Mr Ouattara's troops were at least partially at fault.
Guillaume Ngefa, the deputy head of the human rights division of the UN's Mission in Ivory Coast, told French television that Mr Ouattara's forces were responsible for hundreds of the deaths last week.
UN officials said that traditional hunters known as Dozos joined the Ouattara forces in killing 330 people in Duékoué.
The economist and former luminary at the International Monetary Fund has been careful to hold the moral high ground that he took after his presidential opponent Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power despite losing the November election.
He waited for four months after the disputed poll, participating in international talks to resolve the crisis before ordering his Forces Nouvelles to sweep down from the north.
Mr Ouattara's office issued a statement yesterday denying the UN allegations: "The government [of Mr Ouattara] notes with regret that the allegations of the deputy chief of ONUCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire] human rights division are not supported by any evidence after its preliminary investigation."
The Ouattara officials also denied that Dozos were part of its forces and invited international human rights organisations to investigate the killings and rights violations.
Duékoué witnessed intense fighting between the forces of the two presidential rivals and informal militia were reported to have joined in the battle. Both sides have been accused of hiring mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia, many of whom are now roaming the countryside with guns.
Up to 30,000 foreign migrant workers were said to be sheltering at the town's Catholic Mission amid fears they would be targeted by pro-Gbagbo militiamen. Mr Ouattara has so far enjoyed widespread international support in his effort to unseat the incumbent Mr Gbagbo.
He has made repeated calls for his rival to stand down peacefully in order to avoid serious casualties and a resumption of Ivory Coast's civil war.
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