Incumbent president’s supporters accused of attacks in ongoing unrest, but deny any involvement.
|Al Jazeera’s Ama Boateng reports from Abidjan on the post-election violence that has killed dozens [AFP]|
The United Nations said on Thursday that at least 173 people have been killed and 114 others have gone missing or been tortured following the disputed presidential elections in Cote d’Ivoire.
The post-election violence in the country has prompted fears of a return to civil war.
At least 471 arrests and detentions have also been recorded between December 16 and 21, according to UN deputy human rights commissioner Kyung-wha Kang, who was speaking to diplomats at a special session on Cote d’Ivoire in Geneva on Thursday.
She said the Ivorian government’s restrictions on UN personnel were making it “impossible” to investigate all the allegations of human rights abuses, including reports of mass graves.
Kang said that the UN special representative of the secretary-general had been “stopped at gunpoint as he sought to verify such allegations”.
David Kennedy, spokesman for the US mission to the UN in Geneva, said that the US is “deeply concerned by the extent of the abuses being perpetrated” in Cote d’Ivoire.
The UN and other world leaders recognise Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 presidential runoff poll, but incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has also claimed victory, and remains in control of major state institutions.
Al Jazeera’s Ama Boateng, reporting from Abidjan, says that the situation is difficult for the UN, as under its current mandate, “it cannot physically get involved or intervene”, as Ouattara’s supporters want it to do.
She said that on the other hand, any time that the UN issues statements in favour of Ouattara, this gives the Gbagbo government “pretext” to accuse it of not being impartial.
“While words continue, Laurent Gbagbo is still effectively the man in charge.”
Military reaffirms support
Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesman for Gbagbo said that the Ivorian military stands united behind him, after a political ally of Ouattara said foreign leaders may resort to force to oust him.
In an address on state TV, Babri Gohourou said: “There is no doubt about the cohesion as perfect brothers in arms of the security and defence forces.
“[We] also reaffirm our unfailing attachment to the president.”
|Ouattara was declared winner of the November 28 presidential runoff by the UN mission in Abidjan [AFP]|
The military’s support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the reasons he is able to defy calls to step down.
The comment came hours after Guillaume Soro, the prime minister of Ouattara’s rival government, said the “only solution” to the crisis was for world leaders to use force to oust him if other measures fail.
Separately, the state-run newspaper Fraternite Matin reported that Gbagbo’s signature was still being recognised on state accounts at the central bank of West Africa’s monetary union, despite African leaders officially recognising Ouattara as president-elect.
Ministers from the West African Economic and Monetary Union bloc are scheduled to meet later on Thursday in Guinea-Bissau to discuss the Cote d’Ivoire, a bank official told Reuters.
The US, the UN, the European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) have all recognised electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner of the election and have called on Gbagbo to step down.
The US and the European Union have also since placed travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and the World Bank on Wednesday froze funding to the country, to which it has aid commitments of over $800 million.
Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said on Wednesday that he had talked to Amandou Toumani Toure, president of Mali, about getting the bloc to also freeze loans to Cote d’Ivoire.
With the aid freeze and the risk that Gbagbo’s signature may no longer be recognised on state accounts, some civil servants are worried their salaries soon won’t be paid.
But Fraternite Matin on Thursday quoted Gbagbo’s finance minister as saying that, for the end of this month at least, they would be paid.
“Since yesterday, the salaries of officials and agents of the state of Cote d’Ivoire have been transferred into the different banks. Civil servants’ salaries are not threatened,” it said, adding that it would also be able to pay external debt.
“This credibility of the state’s signature is a great source of motivation for traders and strengthens their confidence in our institutions.”
Al Jazeera’s Boateng said that the transfer of salaries will go a long way to quelling discontent, and that it will be “months and months before [discontent due to non-payment of salaries] reaches any kind of level where Laurent Gbagbo would even be concerned about it”.
Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving to the pressure and insists he won the election, after the Constitutional Court headed by one of his allies threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.
The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles broke out briefly between government soldiers and the rebels who now back Ouattara, and residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods have said masked gunmen are now breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.
The World Bank’s move yesterday came against a backdrop of continued political tension. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has urged French citizens to leave the country if they had the means to do so.
Francois Baroin, a French government spokesman, said on Wednesday that the country recommends that its citizens who can leave Cote d’Ivoire do so temporarily, citing “undeniable sources of worry” in the country.
At least 13,000 French people are currently believed to be in Cote d’Ivoire.
Gbagbo’s demand that the UN and French peacekeeping forces leave the country remains in place, and on Tuesday he said that “the international community has declared war on Ivory Coast”.
However, the UN Security Council has rejected his demand and, on Monday, extended the mandate for the force – known as UNOCI – for six more months.
UN peacekeepers are currently guarding the headquarters of Ouattara at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.