- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | Teams of Red Cross workers shoveled charred corpses into bags in Ivory Coast’s main city Thursday while U.N. peacekeepers gathered weapons hidden in basements, throwing them into dump trucks for disposal.

A coalition of aid agencies on Thursday said the West African country had descended into a humanitarian disaster with hundreds of thousands at risk without urgent international assistance.

More than a week of heavy fighting turned a city once known as the Paris of West Africa into one of deprivation, fear and death. The urban warfare culminated in the arrest Monday of strongman Laurent Gbagbo.

Now President Alassane Ouattara’s first order of business is to get Abidjan functioning again.

“We need to secure the country, notably Abidjan,” Mr. Ouattara said Wednesday at his first news conference. “There are still arms caches, but we will get rid of them with our allied forces. … These weapons will be gathered and burned.”



Now that fighting has ceased in many parts of the largest city, the people who stayed in Abidjan have begun leaving their homes for the first time in more than two weeks.

U.N. spokesman Hamadoun Toure said Thursday that dozens of U.N. vehicles went through Abidjan as part of a peace parade led by Choi Young-jin, head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

“We are doing a peace parade throughout the city to assess the improvement in the security situation. We are encouraging people to return to normal,” Mr. Toure said.

More than 1 million civilians fled their homes amid the fighting, which also shut down the economy of the cocoa-producing powerhouse.

Oxfam’s humanitarian manager in Liberia, where about 135,000 Ivorians have fled, said “many refugees we are working with are too afraid to return home anytime soon.”

In some areas, violence continued. A resident of Micao in the industrial zone of Abidjan’s Yopougon suburb said Thursday that forces fighting for Mr. Ouattara, called Republican Forces, were coming to the area at night and dragging out people identified as former soldiers in the defeated army that was accused of turning heavy weapons on civilians. They then shot them, the resident said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

She said she had found three bodies in an empty plot near her home, and she knew the dead men as soldiers.

On Thursday, soldiers continued firing into the air to scare people, she said, adding that when people flee their homes they are then looted. She said that until that morning, people had been walking around within the neighborhood as they were too scared to go past the roadblocks set up by Mr. Ouattara’s forces that led into other parts of the suburb. Cars also were being stolen, she said.

On Wednesday, a French patrol stopped at the house of Mr. Gbagbo’s last prime minister, Ake N’Gbo. Looters ran out of the gates with their hands in the air, some grasping bottles of wine. Once inside, the patrol found two cases of rockets, two cases of shotgun shells and two cases of banana-shaped magazines for Kalashnikov assault rifles.

The day before, at a residence nearby, the cache had been much larger: more than 500 cases of mines, mortars and .50-caliber machine gun bullets.

“We’ve found considerable quantities of arms,” said Maj. Frederic Daguillon, spokesman for the 1,700-member French Licorne Force in Ivory Coast. “But it’s not us who takes care of them, it’s the U.N.”

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