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UN condemns killing of 173 people in Ivorian 'atrocities'
At a special session in Geneva Thursday, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning "the atrocities and violations of human rights" during Ivory Coast’s post-electoral violence, which killed 173 people.
AFP - The United Nations condemned Thursday the killing of 173 people in "atrocities" triggered by Ivory Coast's political crisis and accused Laurent Gbagbo's forces of harassing its peacekeepers.
UN officials in Abidjan said Gbagbo's security forces, shielded by civilian protesters and backed by unidentified masked gunmen, had prevented human rights monitors from probing reports of at least two new mass graves.
They said gangs of gunmen carry out murderous overnight raids on civilians living in the poorest districts of Abidjan, where local men throw up makeshift barricades and women beat cooking pots as a warning signal.
"They are the ones who day in day out, night in night out, since December 16 are the subject of harassment, intimidation, extra-judicial killing, arrest, detention," said Simon Munzu, UN human rights director in Abidjan.
"The situation is sufficiently disturbing for everyone to take it seriously and do something about it," he said, adding: "We've been stopped virtually every time we've tried to go into the field."
In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council voted to condemn "the atrocities and violations of human rights committed in Ivory Coast", citing killing, kidnaps, sexual violence, repression of protests and destruction of property.
The UNOCI peacekeeping force also complained that Gbagbo's camp continues to besiege the waterfront Abidjan hotel where Alassane Ouattara's rival government is holed up, protected by 800 UN troops.
Gbagbo and Ouattara have been in a standoff since a November 28 presidential election, which both claim to have won. Ouattara has been recognised by the UN Security Council, but Gbagbo is determined to cling to power.
"Serious human rights abuses and intimidation continue to be reported in several districts of Abidjan. The toll of dead, wounded and missing is rising rapidly," UNOCI spokesman Hamadoun Toure told reporters.
Earlier, briefing ambassadors in Geneva, the UN 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.
Munzu said the true figure might be much higher as Gbagbo's troops had blocked attempts to investigate reports of two major mass graves -- one allegedly holding 60 to 80 bodies, the other 30.
"The whole world, and I mean the whole world, has been talking for several days about the discovery of mass graves in Ivory Coast," he said, adding that his teams had been prevented from confirming or disproving the reports.
"We get to a roadblock, manned by heavily armed elements of the Defence and Security Forces, with whom are associated hooded people who we don't know," he told reporters at UNOCI's headquarters in Abidjan.
The Defence and Security Forces (FDS) are police and army regulars loyal to Gbagbo. They have been deployed to prevent protests by Alassane supporters, allegedly backed by masked gunmen in plain clothes.
"And to this is added civilians, including children, who would tomorrow be classified as 'collateral damage' if we tried to force our way," Munzu said, explaining why UN peacekeepers have not tried to cross the roadblocks.
Munzu said the barricade seem to have been set up in response to Gbagbo's demand that United Nations and French troops leave Ivory Coast.
Meanwhile, asked if the United Nations had confirmed reports that Liberian mercenaries are in Abidjan, spokesman Toure said: "Our patrols have met a group of people speaking English and claiming to be Liberian."
He said the group was seen at night in Abidjan and was "heavily armed".
Toure said pro-Gbagbo security forces are blocking UN patrols and supply convoys, intimidating UN police and besieging Ouattara's base in the Golf Hotel, "supported by masked individuals with rocket launchers."
He said UNOCI was finding it hard to find fuel or get access to Abidjan airport, but promised that the force would stay on and try to carry out its mandate of protecting civilians and investigating rights abuses.
With US support, and Nigeria brought the resolution before the UN Human Rights Council, 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.
Despite the efforts to turn the screw on Gbagbo, the incumbent's position remains strong on the ground.
The streets of Abidjan are busy, with traffic jams snaking back into the suburbs as many employees obeyed the regime's call for them to return to work.
Gbagbo remains defiant, declaring he is a fighting for Africa's freedom.
"We are strong, we are resisting, we are brave," Gbagbo told African youth leaders Wednesday.
His most notorious lieutenant, youth minister and "General of the Street" Charles Ble Goude, urged his supporters to gather Wednesday next week in the centre of the city to defend Ivory Coast's sovereignty.