2 April 2011

Cote d'Ivoire: Red Cross Says 800 Killed in Duekoue

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says at least 800 people were killed in the western town of Duekoue earlier this week in what appeared to be inter-ethnic fighting, according to news reports.

Duekoue also suffered a battle between Republican Forces supporting internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara and troops backing incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo this week. The town has been the scene of inter-ethnic clashes in the past.

"There is no doubt that something on a large scale took place in this city, on which the ICRC is continuing to gather information," the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas as saying. "Everything seems to indicate that this was inter-ethnic violence."

The ICRC said tens of thousands of people had fled Duekoue since Monday. Thousands have sought shelter at the Roman Catholic mission in town.

Previously, inter-ethnic violence in the region has intensified when there was threat of other fighting in the area between pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo forces. "They take advantage of the situation" or the insecurity, said one observer in Duekoue in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, fighting continued Friday in the main city, Abidjan, as Republican Forces continued to battle remaining elements supporting Gbagbo, whose whereabouts remain unknown. The BBC reported that he is holed up inside the presidential mansion in Abidjan with the Republican Guard and other allies for protection.

In Liberia, AFP reported that some 100 Liberian mercenaries had been detained upon returning from Cote d'Ivoire. They were in vehicles and carrying arms and weapons, AFP said, citing a security source. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other officials have expressed concern that the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire could destabilize the peace that Liberia has struggled to consolidate after 13 years of civil war ended in 2003. The nation currently hosts more than 90,000 refugees from Cote d'Ivoire.

The UN refugee agency says other neighboring countries are bracing for an influx of more refugees from Cote d'Ivoire. Up to a million people have been displaced within the country or sought refuge in other countries since the November 28 election that pitted Gbagbo against Ouattara. Most of those who have fled their homes left Abidjan.

The Republican Forces now control most of the country and are fighting for dominance in Abidjan. About 10,000 peacekeepers and 1,000 French troops are also in the city. Some 700 foreigners have sought refuge in a military base set up by the French forces in Abidjan.

Reuters news agency reported Friday that UN troops had shot dead five pro-Gbagbo soldiers when the South African Embassy in Abidjan came under attack, citing an internal UN document it obtained. Three Senegalese peacekeepers were wounded in the clash, one seriously, the report said.

"The situation in Abidjan on April 1 is one of generalized chaos," the agency quoted the document as saying.

The U.S. State Department on Friday urged French and UN forces "to take all possible steps and measures" to protect civilians in the city and stop any looting that might occur.

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