Ivory Coast: More than 100 bodies found, says UN

Andrew Harding reports from a neighbourhood in Abidjan controlled by forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara

More than 100 bodies have been found in western Ivory Coast, the United Nations has said, amid the continuing conflict between rivals for the presidency.

The UN said the bodies were the victims of apparent ethnic killings.

Internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara has been battling incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who is blockaded in a bunker in Abidjan.

Heavy-weapon fire from pro-Gbagbo forces targeted the French ambassador's residence in Abidjan, the embassy said.

"The residence... was targeted by two mortar rounds and a rocket coming from the positions of FDS [armed forces] members still loyal to Mr Gbagbo," the embassy said in a statement.

The residence is not far from Mr Gbagbo's bunker in the compound of the presidential palace.

Meanwhile, the EU has lifted sanctions on two ports and the cocoa authority.

After a plea by Mr Ouattara, the EU lifted four sets of sanctions in all - on the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro, the Ivorian Refining Company and the Coffee and Cocoa Trade Management Committee.

The UN has certified Mr Ouattara as the winner of November's run-off vote for president but Mr Gbagbo has refused to cede power.

Mr Ouattara's forces have swept down from the north over the past two weeks but much of the main city of Abidjan is dominated by Gbagbo supporters and days of fighting has plunged it into crisis.

'Liberian mercenaries'

Mr Ouattara tells Ivorians Mr Gbagbo's refusal to step down caused a great crisis

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said its team had found more than 100 new bodies in three locations in the west.

"All the incidents appear to be ethnically motivated," he said.

The findings on 7 April were:

  • Duekoue: 15 new bodies, bringing the total number of known dead in a 28-29 March incident to 244. Victims mostly or all of Guerre ethnicity, traditional Gbagbo supporters. Some seem to have been burnt alive and some corpses were thrown down a well
  • Blolequin: 40 bodies. Perpetrators said to have been Liberian militias, who spared the Guerre after separating them out from other groups
  • Guiglo: 60 bodies, including a number of West Africans

The reports of mass killings began last week, after Duekoue was captured by pro-Ouattara forces.

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Each side has blamed the other for the killings.

Mr Colville told the BBC there were fears more bodies would be found.

He added: "If Mr Gbagbo gives up, it would allow the new administration to try to restore law and order but it is very hard for everyone, including the UN, while this impasse continues."

Mr Colville said of the latest killings that "one has to be a little bit cautious of assigning responsibilities".

The Ouattara camp has previously accused Laurent Gbagbo of recruiting Liberian mercenaries, a claim Mr Gbagbo denies.

Ivorian turmoil

  • 28 Nov 2010: Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and challenger Alassane Ouattara in election run-off
  • 2 Dec: Electoral commission announces that Ouattara won 54% of vote
  • 3 Dec: Constitutional Council declaring Gbagbo the winner; UN says Ouattara was victor
  • 30 Mar 2011: Pro-Ouattara forces enter the capital, Yamoussoukro
  • 4 Apr: UN launches air strikes on Gbagbo in main city, Abidjan
  • 5 Apr: Three generals negotiate Gbagbo's surrender
  • 6 Apr: Gbagbo denies he is ready to leave

But there are reports of both sides using local ethnic militias, which have had a long-standing influence in the west of the country. They were not disarmed after the previous civil war and their overall loyalty is questionable.

'Question of principle'

On Friday, UN relief agencies called for humanitarian corridors which will allow safe passage for thousands of people fleeing the fighting.

In Abidjan, pro-Ouattara forces continue to besiege Mr Gbagbo in his residence.

Mr Ouattara said a blockade had been set up around the perimeter to make the district safe for residents. He said his forces would wait for Mr Gbagbo to run out of food and water.

Advisers to Mr Gbagbo say he is determined not to surrender.

"President Gbagbo will not surrender," said his Paris-based adviser Toussaint Alain.

"It's a question of principle. He is a president elected by his people."

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