- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

MONOKO-ZOHI, Ivory Coast Describing some of the worst bloodletting in Ivory Coast's three-month war, villagers said yesterday that uniformed soldiers killed 120 persons in a western hamlet, dumping some dead in wells and leaving survivors to bury the rest.
Ivory Coast's army denied any wrongdoing, saying first that the killers were rebels and then that the dead were rebels killed in fighting with government troops.
"Look, this is very simple," army spokesman Lt. Col. Jules Yao Yao said. "The victims were rebels who were killed in combat. They then gathered the bodies, and buried them. It's as simple as that."
But villagers said most of the dead were people who worked on the region's lush cocoa and coffee fields. They said the killing started when six trucks with Ivory Coast military markings arrived Nov. 27 carrying uniformed Ivory Coast soldiers.
Accusing villagers of feeding rebels, soldiers went from house to house with a list of names, witnesses said. At the end, they slit some men's throats.
"We heard the shooting we panicked, and we all ran," said Kamousse, a merchant who was showing a customer a radio when the soldiers arrived.
"But my brother stayed in the house. He said, 'Maybe it's just someone shooting into the air.' Afterward, they took him behind the house to the latrine and shot him," said Kamousse, who gave only one name.
The fighting has split this once-prosperous West African nation in three, with separate rebel groups holding the north and struggling now to hold the west against a government offensive. Monoko-Zohi is 70 miles northwest of the government-held city of Daloa.
Blood streaked the paths of Monoko-Zohi yesterday. Limbs stuck out of a mass grave 90 feet long and 30 feet wide.
Over two days, Nov. 27 and 28, soldiers shot some victims where they found them and gathered others for execution, said Ibrahima Ouedraogo, a community elder.
French troops, in the former French colony to enforce a now-shattered cease-fire, first reported the mass grave Friday.
In government territory yesterday, pickup trucks full of Ivorian soldiers and white mercenaries, some in black masks to hide their faces, rushed west to the offensive.
Monoko-Zohi and other villages to the west that had been strongly sympathetic to the rebels had been looted, gutted and emptied of women and children. Families fled to the bush, camping out under cocoa plants, locals along the road said.
Young village men and rebels roamed with an arsenal including Uzis and AK-47 assault rifles.
At two villages, Pelezi and Dagnan, cannonball-size holes in homes and destroyed tin roofs marked two weeks of government helicopter gunship attacks.
Insurgents denied playing a role in the massacre, saying they had no fighters in Monoko-Zohi. Rebel fighters moved in only after villagers came to tell them of the killings and ask for help, commander Zacharia Kone said.
"At that point we didn't even know this area. It wasn't our territory," Mr. Kone said. Witnesses said the dead were workers from neighboring Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Guinea.
Rebels, including hundreds of disgruntled former army officers, are demanding that President Laurent Gbagbo resign and make way for new elections. They began their uprising with a failed coup attempt Sept. 19.

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