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Ivory Coast report: Ouattara forces commit abuses

- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2011

DUEKOUE, IVORY COAST | Forces loyal to Ivory Coast's democratically elected president killed hundreds of civilians, raped his rival's supporters and burned villages during an offensive in the country's west, a human rights group said.

Human Rights Watch called on Alassane Ouattara to investigate and prosecute abuses by his forces and those supporting his rival, strongman Laurent Gbagbo.

The group also said that forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo killed more than 100 civilians to retaliate against pro-Ouattara fighters who launched a major offensive advancing toward Abidjan.

Mr. Gbagbo is holed up in a bunker in his residence in Abidjan. After a decade in power, he refuses to step aside even though the United Nations has ruled that he lost the November presidential election to Mr. Ouattara.

After four months of diplomacy, Mr. Ouattara gave the go-ahead for a military intervention led by fighters from a former rebel group. They swept across the country, advancing hundreds of miles and taking dozens of cities in a matter of days before being held up at the door of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's biggest and most strategically important city.

The United Nations on Sunday said that the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Mr. Ouattara is based came under attack late Saturday. French and U.N. helicopters attacked the hotel a second time Sunday, several eyewitnesses said.

U.N. spokesman Hamadoun Toure said that rockets and mortars landed on the hotel grounds shortly after U.N. forces came under attack nearby. One peacekeeper was evacuated to a hospital with serious injuries, he said.

Massere Toure, a communications adviser for Mr. Ouattara, denied that the hotel itself was targeted by the attack, which she said started when a patrol sent out from the hotel was ambushed by forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.

Ms. Toure confirmed that stray bullets and at least one mortar landed on hotel grounds during the fighting.

Gbagbo forces broke out of the presidential compound Saturday and advanced into position in the downtown core and near the Golf Hotel.

But the human rights group warned that there is more going on outside Abidjan.

"While the international community has been focused on the political stalemate in Abidjan over the presidency, forces on both sides have committed numerous atrocities against civilians, their leaders showing little interest in reining them in," Daniel Bekele, the Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said in the report obtained by the Associated Press late Saturday.

People interviewed by the group described how pro-Ouattara forces "summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush."

The report said that many of the abuses occurred from March 6 to 30, as villages in the west fell to pro-Ouattara forces.

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