Reprisals Rock Ivory Coast After Strongman Deposed
suspected Gbagbo supporters are being rounded up in cities and villages, especially in western Ivory Coast
MICHELLE FAUL The Associated Press
April 13, 2011Laurent Gbagbo after his arrest
GUIGLO, Ivory Coast (AP) -- The young man in civilian clothes didn't have the right answers for troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara and they suspected he was a fighter backing his rival for the presidency. So one of the soldiers kicked the man in the teeth.
Fifteen minutes later, an Associated Press reporter saw his body, the chest torn open by bullets, dumped outside this western town.
Reprisal killings erupted as Ouattara's fighters made a lightning assault to force his rival Laurent Gbagbo from power. And although Gbagbo was captured Monday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital, suspected Gbagbo supporters are still being rounded up in cities and villages, especially in western Ivory Coast.
Parishioners are reporting the kidnappings of dozens of young men in San Pedro, said a Catholic priest in the cocoa-exporting port city in southwestern Ivory Coast. He asked not to be named, explaining: "We are all in danger."
"Every day the (U.N) peacekeepers are collecting and burying bodies," he said. "There is lots of dense bush here. Who knows how many bodies there are."
Like others, he said young men are being targeted, especially those between 20 and 35.
San Pedro was attacked by pro-Ouattara fighters on April 1 as Gbagbo's soldiers retreated without resistance, firing into the air.
A resident said the only resistance came from a feared Gbagbo support group called the Young Patriots, who sacked the abandoned army base, donning camouflage uniforms and taking weapons.
The pro-Ouattara fighters pushed the youths back from barricades at the entrance to the city and chased them to the Cathedral of St. Pierre downtown. Near the cathedral an unknown number of Young Patriots were killed, the priest said.
Then the invaders surrounded the cathedral with all-terrain vehicles, shot open the gate and fired into a crowd of 5,000 residents who had taken refuge there. The priest said the refugees belonged to the Bete, Guere and other tribes that support Gbagbo.
The pro-Ouattara forces stopped shooting after one man was killed and several people were wounded, he said.
A woman at the cathedral who was too scared to give her name said her neighbor, the headmaster of the Catholic primary school, was killed Monday night at his home because he belonged the wrong tribe.
"We have a very toxic and explosive mix here of political, ethnic, religious and land rivalry," the priest said. "The recent tumultuous events have brought long-simmering conflicts to a head. Who knows where this will end."
On Monday, on a road north of San Pedro, a reporter saw pro-Ouattara fighters at a roadblock outside the cocoa farming center of Soubre order people off a minibus, separate three young men from the group and drag the trio into the thick bush.
On Sunday, in the western town of Guiglo, a reporter detained for three hours by pro-Ouattara forces watched as four young men were interrogated in succession, then taken away. It's not clear what happened to the first three.
The fourth, who looked about 25, claimed to come from a nearby town, but he was unable to name a single neighborhood there. The soldiers became angry.
Earlier, the commander, who identified himself only as Lt. Siloue, was visited by Muslim and Christian elders who said prayers and told him the community welcomed the forces backing Ouattara.
"We have not come here to create ethnic problems," the lieutenant responded.
Half an hour later, the interrogation of the fourth young man centered on his tribe, and on which tribes his parents belonged to.
"Toura and Yacouba," he said again and again, like a mantra, the tribes of his mother and father which generally support Gbagbo.
When the kneeling man was unable to name his purported hometown's neighborhoods, one of the soldiers got up and kicked him in the mouth with his combat boot.
The man spat out blood and two teeth.
Siloue remonstrated with the soldiers, not for assaulting the man, but for doing it in front of a journalist. "Go and do that elsewhere," he ordered him. The man was bundled into a closed van together with his attacker.
Fifteen minutes later, when the released journalist was driving out of town, she saw a body on the other side of a bridge just outside town. Half the torso and feet were hidden in bush, but the man's chest, torn open by bullets, lay exposed. His head touched the tarmac, blood still dribbling from his mouth.
No one knows how many people have been killed. A week ago when the United Nations was reporting more than 400 deaths throughout the country, the International Federation of the Red Cross Society said thousands had been killed and wounded.
The worst atrocities occurred in a western triangle of three towns, Duekoue, Guiglo and Blolequin, where aid groups agree that hundreds have died. But there is so much contention about the number of victims that the U.N. has launched an investigation.
Questions have also been raised about what nearly 1,000 Moroccan U.N. peacekeepers based in Duekoue did to fulfill their mandate of protecting civilians. The U.N. has said the majority of the force was deployed around a Catholic mission to defend some 30,000 civilians who had sought refuge there.
Several residents of Carrefour, a neighborhood of Duekoue where many died, said a white U.N. helicopter flew low over the neighborhood three times each day during three days of killings, indicating the peacekeepers could witnessed the bloodshed taking place below.
Ouattara's new administration says it wants the violence to stop now that Gbagbo has surrendered. But it's not clear how much authority he can wield over forces which only recently pledged allegiance to him and are cobbled together from various warlords accused of atrocities in the past.
A U.N. peacekeeper in Duekoue said a village chief had called him to complain that 10 young men had been detained by pro-Ouattara forces who accused them of hiding weapons, even though no arms had been found in the village.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the 10 were being held at the police station in Duekoue.
"These poor people," the peacekeeper said. "First they were abused by Gbagbo's forces, now they're abused by Ouattara's forces."
The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 800 were killed in Duekoue alone. Caritas, the Catholic charity, said the number is nearer 1,000. The United Nations has said pro-Ouattara forces killed more than 430 there and pro-Gbagbo forces another 100.
New York based Human Rights Watch Tuesday said it had been able to establish that 536 people had been killed in the west of the country in recent weeks.
U.N. peacekeepers in the area told AP they had buried 198 bodies and the Red Cross about another 20. It's unclear what became of the other bodies.
Rome-based Caritas spokesman Patrick Nicholson said the charity got its figure from the International Committee of the Red Cross and from speaking to witnesses in Duekoue.
"We are not going to lower our estimate," Nicholson said, adding he would have no further comment until the U.N publishes its findings.
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Steven Anderson, said the Geneva-based organization also stands by its reports, made from Red Cross teams who were in Duekoue on March 31 and April 1.
He said Red Cross workers saw hundreds of bodies and that the ICRC took the rare step of publicizing the death toll in order to get fighters to stop harming civilians.
A commander from the pro-Ouattara forces in central Bouake told the AP that they killed only fighters in Duekoue and that many people died there because it was the only town that had put up fierce resistance.
But a resident of the Carrefour neighborhood said the pro-Ouattara forces killed indiscriminately after initially targeting only young men. She did not want to be identified because she feared for her life.
Associated Press writer Carley Petesch contributed to this report from Johannesburg.