UN officials said Friday they had found 100 more corpses in western Ivory Coast, hours after president-elect Alassane Ouattara vowed to shed light on crimes committed during fighting with forces loyal to his rival, Laurent Gbagbo.
REUTERS - Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara sought to assert his grip on power after weeks of fighting, leaving his rival Laurent Gbagbo isolated behind a military cordon in his bunker.
In a sign of how difficult restoring security will be, the United Nations human rights office said on Friday it found 100 more corpses in western Ivory Coast in the past 24 hours, adding to the 800 dead reported by aid groups last week.
Ouattara calls on EU to lift Ivory Coast sanctions
Ouattara said his forces had blockaded Gbagbo in the presidential residence in Abidjan -- an ironic twist after Ouattara suffered months in a hotel under siege by Gbagbo's troops following last November's disputed presidential election.
In a speech late on Thursday, Ouattara said he would seek to restore security and basic public services in the country following fierce fighting between his forces and Gbagbo's defenders, and would also try to revive the country's cocoa industry, the world's largest.
Ouattara won the November presidential poll by eight percentage points, according to U.N. certified results, but Gbagbo rejected the outcome citing fraud and accused the United Nations of meddling in Ivorian affairs.
The poll was meant to draw a line under Ivory Coast's 2002-3 civil war, but the dispute over results rekindled it, turning Abidjan -- once known as the 'Paris of West Africa' -- once again into a war zone.
"I was born here, but I am leaving and I am never coming back," said Imad Zarour, 40, who was waiting to be evacuated at a French military base on Friday. "Even if there's peace, even if they give me a billion dollars, I will never come back to this country. I hate it."
A commander for the French military force in Ivory Coast, Licorne (Unicorn), said on Friday its troops would carry out mixed patrols with police and gendarmes loyal to Ouattara to restore security and rebuild infrastructure.
Ouattara added he hoped to revive the cocoa sector, the country's main economic engine, which has been paralysed by EU shipping restrictions since January.
"I have asked that European Union sanctions on the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro and certain public entities, be lifted," Ouattara said in the speech broadcast on French television.
"I have also asked the central bank BCEAO to reopen its branches in Ivory Coast, to ensure a resumption of operations in all banks so as to enable the payment of salaries and arrears in the shortest possible time," he said on television channel LCI.
In Brussels, the European Commission said it hoped to be able to begin easing sanctions soon. A European diplomatic source said an agreement was possible as early as Tuesday.
Diplomatic and military efforts to oust Gbagbo this week were met with fierce resistance and Ouattara said his rival's residence had been sealed off to protect the area.
"As for the outgoing President Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, who has entrenched himself at the presidential residence in Cocody with heavy weapons and mercenaries, a blockade has been established around the perimeter to secure the inhabitants of the district," Ouattara said.
Crimes to be investigated
A week of fighting for control of Abidjan has driven terrified residents to scramble to find food and water, with frequent power cuts and hospitals overwhelmed with wounded.
"Every morning people have to take jerrycans to walk around the neighbourhood and search for water," Cocody resident Jean-Claude said. "As for food, there is nothing left."
Ouattara said he had asked his generals to take all necessary steps to maintain order and security of goods, people and their movements and also secure the delivery of food to markets and medicines in hospitals and health centres.
He said steps would also be taken to shed light on all crimes committed during the conflict and would collaborate with international organisations to investigate human rights abuses and punish those found guilty.
The International Criminal Court prosecutor said on Tuesday he was in talks with West African states about referring alleged atrocities in the Ivory Coast to the court.
The International Commission for the Red Cross said last week some 800 dead were found in western Ivory Coast, and the United Nations human rights office said another 100 were found in the past 24 hours in apparent ethnically driven violence.
"We have established a national commission of inquiry whose findings will be made public and the perpetrators of crimes will be severely punished," Ouattara said.
France has taken a leading role in talks to persuade Gbagbo to hand over to Ouattara and end the standoff, and its Defence Minister said he believed Gbagbo had about 1,000 men, 200 of whom were defending his residence.
Helicopters from French forces and the United Nations peacekeeping mission bombarded Gbagbo's heavy weapons stockpiles earlier this week, including those near the residence.
Gbagbo has ruled Ivory Coast since 2000 and blames Paris for supporting the north of the country in the civil war of 2002-03. Rebels from that war now make up the bulk of Ouattara's force.