Ivory Coast: Full Blown Civil War Amid Atrocities From Both Sides
On Sunday, French troops took control of the airport in Abidjan as the two sides continued to fight for the control of Ivory Coast largest city. According to the French military, the move is to ensure the safety of French and foreign nationals who want to leave the country. France has also increased its peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast by 300 to reach about 1,400. President Sarkozy held an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday to discuss the crisis unfolding in France’s former African colony. Meanwhile, Ivory Coast’s state television (still under the control of Laurent Gbagbo) broadcast a strong anti-French message on Sunday claiming that “a Rwandan genocide is being prepared by Sarkozy’s men”.
All day Saturday, fighting raged in Abidjan between forces loyal to Allassane Ouattara and the forces of Laurent Gbagbo. According to the Red Cross, the death toll of the civil war has reached new highs with 800 people killed in the town of Duekoue last week. Today, the armed forces of Ouattara, who is the internationally recognized winner of last November’s elections, went on the offensive in Abidjan against the troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo. The fighting took place near the presidential palace, the state controlled radio station and several military bases.
According to the representative of the Red Cross in Abidjan, Kelnor Panglungtshang, the fighting between the two sides has its origins not only from the disputed November’s elections but also from pre-existing tensions between different ethnic groups. In the battle to control Abidjan, Gbagbo seems cornered, but regardless of the closing tide in favor of Ouattara, he is still dismissing calls from world leaders to step down. Gbagbo is now trapped in his presidential palace located in the upscale district of Cocody.
As the violence escalates in Ivory Coast, both sides have been accused of committing atrocities which could be considered crimes against humanity. The United Nations -which has recognized Ouattara as president-elect- reported that from the 330 people killed between Monday and Wednesday a majority were executed by Dozos, who are traditional hunters fighting in Ouattara’s army. Other reports said mass graves were found in several small towns, and that the executioners were mercenaries and militias of Gbagbo.
On Saturday, Human Rights Watch said that while the vast majority of atrocities and abuses were committed by Gbagbo forces against supporters of his rival, Ouattara forces shared part of the blame for retaliating and arming innocent civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented widespread abuses against civilians in the last four months. Beside the killing of more than 500 people, the human rights organization also documented “enforced disappearance, politically motivated rapes and unlawful use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators.”
Amnesty International has warned that “civilians are at immediate risk of massive human rights violations”, as forces loyal to Ouattara reached Abidjan. “Abidjan is on the brink of a human rights catastrophe and total chaos. Ivory coast is facing a major humanitarian crisis. The parties to the conflict must immediately stop targeting the civilian population,” said Amnesty International’s Salvadore Sagues.
Despite the claims of Human rights Watch, Ouattara’s government denies any involvement of his army in possible abuses. Since the presidential election in November, the United Nations estimates that 700 people have been killed. And still according to the UN, more than a million people have fled Abidjan in fear a full blown civil war. The international community, including former colonial ruler France, but also the EU, the US, the African Unions and the United Nations have recognized Ouattara as the legitimately elected president and have urged Gbagbo to step down.