Sunday, April 03, 2011

Death Toll Mounts In Ivory Coast As UN Comes Under Attack From Gbagbo's Loyalists

The death toll continues rising in the Ivory Coast as a result of the political unrest and demands that Laurent Gbagbo leave office.

French peacekeepers took control over a key airport and are bolstering UN peacekeepers elsewhere in the country. Various reports indicate that anywhere from several hundred to more than a thousand people were killed in one town near the heart of the cocoa producing region. There is some dispute over who engaged in the killings, but there were retaliatory attacks between Gbagbo's loyalists and the rebel groups backing the winner of November's election, Alassane Dramane Ouattara.
United Nations helicopters patrolled the skies over the city as a tense calm reigned Sunday morning, a local resident told CNN.

The man, whom CNN is not naming to protect his safety, said he had been to church as usual, where another parishioner said he had seen dead bodies by the road on his way to the congregation.

The uneasy peace came in the wake of claims of a massacre as fighters backing internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara battle forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to leave office.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded Sunday that Gbagbo step aside immediately.

"Gbagbo is pushing Cote d'Ivoire into lawlessness," she said, using the French name for the country. "He must leave now so the conflict may end."

She also called "on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said 800 people were shot to death in the western cocoa-producing town of Duekoue. A United Nations official put the death toll so far at 330.

The massacre occurred between Monday and Wednesday as Ouattara's Republican Forces led an offensive through the country to Abidjan, said Guillaume Ngefa, the deputy human rights director at the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast.

He blamed 220 deaths on forces loyal to Ouattara. Ngefa said pro-Gbagbo forces killed 100 people.

"We have evidence, we have pictures. This was retaliation," he said, referring to Ouattara's forces.

The Ouattara camp said it "firmly rejects such accusations and denies any involvement by the Republican Forces of Cote d'Ivoire in possible abuses."
The UN is withdrawing some of its personnel after their headquarters building has come under repeated attack by Gbagbo's loyalists.

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