EU official: Human rights abuses "clearly" happening in Ivory Coast
A senior European Union official said Monday that human rights abuses have "clearly" occurred in Ivory Coast, although it remains unclear who is at fault, DPA reported.
"It is very hard to get hard evidence on who did what to whom. The situation is very murky," said the official, who asked not to be named. "But clearly human rights abuses have taken place ... And those who commit human rights abuses will be held responsible."
Reports surfaced last week that civilians had been massacred in the western town of Duekoue, which forces loyal to internationally backed elected leader Alassane Ouattara had seized.
Estimates on the number of dead have ranged from 330 to more than 1,000, the EU official said.
Ouattara's camp has denied that a civilian massacre took place, saying that most of the dead were fighters and that there were far fewer victims than reported.
Ouattara has agreed to cooperate with an inquiry commission that the United Nations' Human Rights Council last week formed to investigate allegations of abuses, the EU official said.
The West African country has faced increasing violence since presidential elections in November, which international observers say Ouattara won. But incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has refused to yield power despite mounting global pressure.
The EU official said that militias with old scores to settle may now be taking advantage of the chaos to perpetrate acts of violence.
"There are other groups around who don't particularly owe allegiance to either side," the official said. "We urge all parties to exercise restraint and not harm civilians."
EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said Monday that she, too, is "alarmed by the reports about manhunts and ethic killings."
"History has given us far too many bitter examples of the scale that humanitarian disaster can reach when such escalation of violence is not stemmed by decisive and responsible action," she said, calling on Gbagbo and Ouattara to end their conflict and protect civilians.
France's "Unicorn" force, which is in Ivory Coast to support a UN peacekeeping mission, recently moved to also protect the thousands of French nationals who live mainly in the economic capital Abidjan.
There has, however, not been any mass evacuation of French or EU nationals.
"Most have kept their head down and kept off the streets," the EU official said. "Out on the streets, it's not safe."