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Gbagbo under pressure as UN hears of mass atrocities

Residents of the Abidjan looking at the covered charred body of a soldier. Photo: Issouf Sanogo/AFP

Residents of the Abidjan looking at the covered charred body of a soldier. Photo: Issouf Sanogo/AFP

UN rights officials said yesterday at least 173 people have been killed in Ivory Coast and they had received reports of mass graves, as the fragile West African state’s post-election crisis escalated.

Amid evidence that Liberian fighters may now be operating in Ivory Coast, world powers increased pressure on the country’s strongman Laurent Gbagbo to make way for Alassane Ouattara, his rival in last month’s polls.

The United States and Nigeria brought a draft resolution before the UN Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, seeking to bolster their position before an important West African regional summit on Friday.

Nigeria will host this meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in Abuja, and US officials say an appeal will be made for new troops to reinforce the hard-pressed UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast.

The United Nations has already recognised Mr Ouattara as the victor in the run-off election and its secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has voiced fears of a return to civil war.

Speaking to ambassadors in Geneva, the world body’s deputy human rights chief said the UN had been able to confirm allegations of 173 killings and 90 cases of torture or ill treatment in Ivory Coast in the past week.

“Unfortunately it has been impossible to investigate all the allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of mass graves, due to restrictions on movement by UN personnel,” Kyung-wha Kang added.

Mr Kang said that a top UN official who was trying to verify the allegations was stopped at gunpoint.

Despite the efforts of world powers to turn the screw on Mr Gbagbo, the incumbent’s position remained strong on the ground.

The streets of Abidjan were crowded, with traffic jams snaking back into the suburbs as many private and government employees obeyed the regime’s call for them to return to work.

Mr Ouattara’s shadow government remains trapped in the Golf Hotel, a luxury waterfront resort on the edge of the city protected by 800 UN troops and besieged by Mr Gbagbo’s forces.

Mr Gbagbo and long-time rival Mr Ouattara have been locked in a stand-off since the November 28 Presidential election, which both claim to have won. In Geneva, Nigeria, acting for the African group of nations, submitted a draft resolution that would place Ivory Coast under international scrutiny. It expressed deep concern “about the atrocities and violations of human rights committed in Ivory Coast in relation to the conclusion of the 2010 presidential election” and called for the election results to be respected.

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