2 Apr 2011

800 dead in Ivory Coast violence, says Red Cross

At least 800 people were killed in inter-communal violence in the western Ivorian town of Duekoue earlier this week, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The violence is believed to have taken place on Tuesday after the town was taken over by fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara, winner of November’s presidential election.

The United nations High Commission for Refugees says tens of thousands of men, women and children have fled the fighting and pillaging in Douekoue since the start of last week.

The ICRC said on Friday than more than 5,000 refugees had arrived in neighbouring Ghana as a result of the intensified armed conflict in Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, the streets in the capital city, Abidjan, are empty as fighting continues between Ouattara forces and troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president.

Ouattara forces deny 'mass killing' claims
On 31 March Channel 4 News said there had been unconfirmed reports of mass killings by Ouattara forces near Duekoue – where at least 10,000 refugees had been trapped in a church compound with little or no access to food, water or health facilities.

A UN military officer, who asked not to be named, said the situation was "very, very, very tense, nobody is safe there".

However, Ouattara spokesman Konata Siratugui denied that the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast were committing war crimes in Duekoue or in any part of the country.

Although Alassane Ouattara enjoys widespread international backing for his claim to the Ivory Coast presidency, many recall the horror inflicted by his Forces Nouvelles rebels during the country's 2002-3 civil war.

Read more: Ouattara forces deny 'mass killing' claims
West Africa on the brink
For more on the background to the conflict in Ivory Coast, including features on Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo, go to Who Knows Who: Ivory Coast pushes West Africa to the brink.

Ouattara’s soldiers marched into Abidjan on Thursday after a push south that met with minimal initial resistance. Reports yesterday indicated that Laurent Gbagbo’s house had come under attack.

But they now face Gbagbo’s elite Republican Guard, clustered in Abidjan along with remaining regular army troops.

Inside Abidjan, a battle has been raging for three days for control of the building of state broadcaster RTI. The station went off air on Thursday evening after hours of fighting nearby.

However, the boradcaster came back on air yesterday evening, transmitting pro-Gbagbo footage. There have since been claims that it has been retaken by pro-Ouattara forces.

The conflict in Ivory Coast has been prompted by the refusal of Laurent Gbagbo, to accept the results of last year’s election. The African Union, France, the United States and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have all called on him to step down.