Death toll in Ivory Coast’s Abidjan to rise sharply: U.N.

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – At least 400 people were killed in Ivory Coast’s main city Abidjan prior to final clashes between forces loyal to two presidential rivals, though the final toll will be much higher, a U.N. official said on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, who the United Nations says won a November presidential election, arrested former leader Laurent Gbagbo at his residence in Abidjan, ending a months-long stand-off that had escalated into a civil war.

“Before these recent clashes, it is our estimate that we have had some 400 casualties (killed) in Abidjan,” said Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York.

He added that the chief U.N. medic from his office estimated that “around 150 people, civilians, have died as a result of deliberate targeting by heavy weapons.”

But those figures do not include those killed after Ouattara’s forces arrived in Abidjan for their showdown with Gbagbo’s forces, he told a news conference.

“The (final) number of killed in Abidjan will be considerably higher,” Simonovic said.

U.N. peacekeepers and French forces launched a final assault over the weekend to silence Gbagbo’s heavy weapons, the use of which U.N. officials and diplomats have said could constitute a war crime.

“The current problem of Abidjan is a security vacuum,” said Simonovic, who was in Ivory Coast last week.

“Most police and gendarmerie are not at their (posts) and until today we have had a number of cases of looting, of raping and of murders in the areas of Abidjan controlled by either of the sides to the conflict,” he said.

Ouattara’s government, Simonovic said, has voiced concerns about a lack of food and medicine in what U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy earlier described as a humanitarian crisis in Abidjan, whose population approached 4 million people.

Simonovic said it was clear Gbagbo’s forces had been involved in systematic attacks against civilians. He added that there were indications Ouattara’s forces were also guilty of attacks against civilians.

The United Nations confirmed that some 255 people, most of them of pro-Gbagbo forces belonging to the Guerre ethnic group, were killed in Duekoue, Simonovic said. Ouattara’s government has rejected allegations that his forces were responsible for the killings, but says it is not opposed to an investigation.

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said on Friday that both Ouattara’s and Gbagbo’s forces had been guilty of unjustifiable attacks against civilians. Ouattara’s U.N. envoy rejected the allegations against Ouattara’s forces.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Death toll in Ivory Coast’s Abidjan to rise sharply: U.N.