April 4, 2011

Ivory Coast: Aid Workers Find 1,000 DEAD Bodies In Duekoue

The Telegraph UK
written by Aislinn Laing
Saturday April 2, 2011

The single biggest atrocity in the long battle for control of Ivory Coast has emerged after aid workers discovered the bodies of up to 1,000 people in the town of Duekoue.

Charity workers who reached Duekoue said it appeared the killings had taken place in a single day, shortly after the town fell to troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the man internationally-recognised as having won last year’s presidential election.

The apparent massacre came despite the presence of United Nations troops and - if confirmed - will cast a shadow over Mr Outtara’s assumption of the Ivory Coast’s presidency after a four-month battle to oust Lawrence Gbagbo, the former president who lost the November election but refused to step down.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said he was “gravely concerned” by the violence and loss of life in Ivory Coast and added: “I am determined that all alleged human rights abuses... must be investigated and those responsible held to account.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said its staff discovered more than 800 bodies of people who were clearly local civilians. They were mainly men who had been shot and left where they fell, the organisation said, either alone or in small groups dotted around the town, which lies at the heart of Ivory Coast’s economically crucial cocoa producing region.

Patrick Nicholson, a spokesman for the Catholic charity Caritas, said his team had counted 1,000 bodies, adding that some had been hacked with machetes. The UN said that it already logged 430 killed in Duekoue and was still investigating reports of more dead in the town.

Fighting in the country’s economic capital, Abidjan, appeared to be reaching a bloody climax and there were predictions that the compound occupied by Mr Gbagbo and what remains of his entourage would be overrun within the next 24 hours.

Even though most of Mr Gbagbo’s military chiefs have abandoned him in the past week, allowing Mr Ouattara’s forces to take control of most of the country and lay siege to his powerbase in Abidjan, the 65 year-old strongman remained defiant, with friends saying he would rather die than admit defeat.

Mr Ouattara has instructed that Mr Gbabgo be taken alive if possible, to ensure that is made to answer publicly for his refusal to step down from power, leading to the deaths of 492 people on both sides even before the Duekoue killings.

Kelnor Panglungtshang, a spokesman for ICRC, said its workers were struggling to keep the newly-discovered bodies in a condition to be identified by their families - a task made harder because the town’s mortuary has been looted in the lawlessness left in the wake of the conquering forces.

“Our colleagues on the ground are doing their best but it’s a horrific situation,” he said. “One very experienced colleague says he’s never seen anything like it.”

The charity said it had been told by locals that intercommunal violence erupted soon after Mr Ouattara’s forces took control of the town on Monday. Thousands of people left their homes to escape the fighting and an estimated 40,000 sought refuge in a nearby Roman Catholic mission’s compound. The priests who operate it are running short of food, clean water and medical equipment to treat those they say arrived with gunshot wounds.

The bodies are thought to be of those who did not reach sanctuary in time. They were killed despite 200 United Nations troops operating what it said were “robust” patrols from its base on the outskirts to protect civilians in and around the church.

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