The UN said Saturday that thousands of Ivorian civilians have fled to the southwestern town of Tai after seven UN peacekeepers and eight civilians were killed Friday in raids on villages in the area, which lies near the Liberian border.
AFP - Thousands of civilians in Ivory Coast have fled their homes after seven UN peacekeepers and eight civilians were killed during raids near the Liberian border, a UN official said Saturday.
The peacekeepers were killed Friday while patrolling an area between two villages after hearing rumours of an imminent attack on communities there. At least one Ivorian soldier with them was also killed, said Abidjan.
And a series of simultaneous raids on several villages near the southwest town of Tai, close to the Liberian border had sparked an "immediate" exodus, UN spokeswoman Anouk Desgroseilliers told AFP.
These latest raids came just days after a Human Rights Watch report blamed recent attacks in southwest Ivory Coast on fighters loyal to the country's former president Laurent Gbagbo.
Desgroseilliers, of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said at least eight civilians, including a woman, had been killed.
"Hundreds of people have arrived in Tai, and one can imagine that thousands of others are on the road," Desgroseilliers said.
"Thirty-five families have crossed the border" into Liberia to seek safety there, she added.
"It's real panic here...," mayor Desire Gnonkonte told AFP by phone from the nearby town of Tai. "People are taking little bundles and fleeing on foot."
And a resident of Para village in the district told AFP by phone: "There's panic in the villages, many are fleeing into the forest, others are heading for Liberia."
Desgroseilliers said that aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Danish Refugee Council and local groups were on site to assist those displaced, including supplying food and water.
OCHA was trying to coordinate the response to the situation with local authorities, she added.
Ivorian defence minister Paul Koffi Koffi said one Ivorian soldier on patrol with the UN force also died in the attack, while another army source said two of their men had been killed.
Abidjan said it had already sent reinforcements to the troubled region.
On Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "outraged" by the killing of the seven peacekeepers, all from Niger. He paid tribute to more than 40 of their colleagues who were staying in the region to protect civilians.
He added: "My thoughts are with these brave peacekeepers and the community they are protecting."
Niger Justice Minister and government spokesman Marou Amadou expressed the shock felt by his government.
"All measures should be taken to see that this serious act does not go unpunished," he told AFP on Saturday.
The 900-strong Niger contingent would nevertheless continue its work with ONUCI, the UN mission in Ivory Coast, he added.
These were the biggest losses suffered by the 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast since it was deployed in 2004.
The southwest of Ivory Coast, which borders Liberia, is by far the most unstable part of the country.
Human Rights Watch said in its report, published Wednesday that similar border raids had killed at least 40 people since July 2011, blaming fighters loyal to Gbagbo.
Liberia's government on Thursday angrily denied accusations from the rights group that it was doing nothing to stop what the rights group described as the "war criminals" behind the cross-border raids.
Human Rights Watch also accused the fighters of forcing Liberian children into fighting with them.
Gbagbo refused to stand down after elections in 2010 that handed victory to his rival Alassane Ouattara.
He was finally captured on April 11, 2011, after a conflict that cost 3,000 lives across the country.
The former president has been in custody in The Hague since November awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.
Date created : 2012-06-09