U.N. peacekeepers come under threat in Ivory Coast

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Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported hundreds of cases of killings, torture and disappearances since the contested election. Witnesses report that masked men arrive in the night and take pre-selected targets away, often never to be seen again.

The United Nations has confirmed that at least 173 people have died in the past two weeks, and the global body suspects that more may have died, though pro-Gbagbo security forces have prevented them from investigating. The sites of two purported mass graves — one in Abidjan and the other near the city of Gagnoa — still have not been inspected by investigators.

The United Nations, citing witness reports, believes up to 80 bodies have been moved to a nondescript building nestled among shacks in a pro-Gbagbo neighborhood on the outskirts of Abidjan. Investigators have tried to go there several times, and even made it as far as the building’s front door before truckloads of men with guns forced them to leave.

A second mass burial site is believed to be located near Gagnoa in the interior of the country, the United Nations said.

Mr. Ban said Saturday that the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast is doing everything it can to gain access to areas where such violations are being reported — both to document any abuses and prevent others from occurring.

Simon Munzu, the head of the U.N. human rights division, urged security forces to allow investigators inside. Mr. Gbagbo’s government repeatedly has denied the existence of mass graves following violence over the disputed presidential runoff that has left at least 173 confirmed dead already.

“We would be the very first to say that these stories are false if they turn out to be false,” Mr. Munzu said. “Our findings on the matter and their announcement to the world would have a greater chance of being believed than these repeated denials.”

Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said denying access “constitutes a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.” Mr. Pillay also warned that those committing human rights violations at the direction of others also could be held accountable.

Back on the streets of Abidjan, the Jordanian peacekeepers peer warily out at the crowds on the side of the road.

A street vendor gives them a thumbs up, but is quickly reprimanded by others around him. A woman standing outside of an evangelical church starts screaming profanities, and people in passing cars yell threats. While no crowd forms this time, the peacekeepers are well aware that they no longer can think of themselves as impartial observers.

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