‘Thousands displaced’ after Ivory Coast battles

Abidjan – Up to 10 000 people have sought refuge in a Catholic mission in western Ivory Coast amid fierce fighting in an offensive by internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara, Amnesty International said today.

“As many as 10 000 civilians are sheltering in the mission in the town of Duekoue, after fleeing fierce battles yesterday between forces supporting (Ouattara) and militiamen loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo,” read a statement.

Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa Veronique Aubert urged the United Nations peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast to “act immediately to prevent further bloodshed”.

“The Unoci camp is only about three kilometres away from Duekoue and we are urging them to use all means necessary to protect civilians against the violence taking place on their own doorstep.”

The strategic town of Duekoue in the heart of the cocoa belt, is one of four which fell to Ouattara forces yesterday as violence escalates after a disputed November presidential election.

“All parties to the conflict have committed serious human rights violations including unlawful killings and rape and sexual violence against women,” read the Amnesty statement.

The organisation reported electricity in Duekoue had been cut, apparently as a result of the fighting, depriving people in the area of water.

The United Nations has come under pressure to increase the mandate of the UN mission as civilians increasingly bear the brunt of the bloody election stand-off in which some 460 have died and one million have fled their homes.

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