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24th Feb 2024

Ivory coast report complicates EU support for Ouattara

  • French soldiers were engaged in fresh attacks on Sunday

Forces loyal to Ivory Coast president-elect Alassane Ouattara have killed hundreds of civilians, carried out mass rapes and burned at least 10 villages, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

The document's publication on Saturday (9 April) creates a further headache for the international community, including the EU, who have backed Ouattara as the legitimate winner of disputed presidential elections in the west African state last November.

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It also comes amid fresh fighting between French and UN forces and those loyal to opposition candidate Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president currently holed up in a bunker below the presidential palace in the country's main commercial city of Abidjan.

On Sunday afternoon, French and UN helicopters attacked military bases and heavy weapons depots throughout Abidjan, after UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon gave the go-ahead minutes earlier.

"The continued use of heavy weapons against the civilian population and our peacekeepers, as well as the attack against the headquarters of the legitimate government, have compelled me, once again, to instruct [UN force] UNOCI to use all necessary means," Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

The fresh attacks come as EU foreign ministers prepare to discuss the ongoing Ivory Coast conflict when they meet in Luxembourg this Tuesday (12 April).

Member states on Friday decided to lift sanctions on two key ports in the country, as well as the cocoa industry regulator, in order to support the "legitimate authorities of Côte d'Ivoire".

However, the EU's position towards Ouattara was complicated over the weekend by a Human Rights Watch report that pinned significant atrocities to forces on both sides of the bloody struggle that has caused over 1,500 deaths.

Ouattara's forces recently swept down from their strongholds in the north of the country, largely unopposed, but subsequently met much stronger resistance when they reached Abidjan.

"People interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how, in village after village, pro-Ouattara forces ... summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush," said the HRW report.

"The fighters often targeted people by ethnicity, and the attacks disproportionally affected those too old or feeble to flee," it continued.

A spokesperson for EU high representative Catherine Ashton was not immediately available on Monday morning. A senior official last week said the EU would wait until a UN investigation had been completed before deciding on a course of action regarding the reported atrocities.

Ouattara has promised human rights violations will be investigated and culprits punished, regardless of their allegiance. "For us, the question of his legitimacy depends on whether he fulfils his promise to open a credible investigation into atrocities on both sides," said HRW researcher Matt Wells.

France, the former colonial power will be especially keen to see a resolution to the ongoing violence and reported war crimes, with thousands of French citizens still being protected in safe areas within the country.

In an interview with EUobserver last week, EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the situation in the Ivory coast was "moving from bad to worse", with reports suggesting over 125,000 people have fled into neighbouring Liberia, with a further 7,200 seeking refuge in Ghana.

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