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UN Accuses Ivory Coast Rebels and Government of Rights Abuses

The U.N. Operation in Ivory Coast has issued a report accusing the country's rebel and government forces of committing human-rights violations. But an advisor to Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo says the U.N. accusations are false and could hamper the peace process. Phillip Wellman reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The report issued late last week examines the period from September and December 2006. During this time, the U.N. Ivory Coast mission known as ONUCI says human-rights violations repeatedly occurred throughout the country. It says these include such acts as arbitrary arrests and imprisonments by rebels in the north and the use of torture and summary executions by President Laurent Gbagbo's army in the south.

It says there was no semblance of judicial process in the north, while there was also trafficking of children for prostitution on both sides.

Andrea Ori, of ONUCI's human rights division, says that since the four-month period of investigation, the number of summary executions in Ivory Coast has greatly reduced, but that other violations continue to occur.

"The violations are still going on. I do not have the statistics under my eyes, but I could say that actually there is an increase of human-rights violations. I mean every day we [get], not a very large number, but we can see from our daily incident reports, two, three, four cases every day," said Ori.

But a senior advisor to President Laurent Gbagbo, Sery Bahi, says the allegations are untrue.

Bahi also says the United Nations should be focusing its efforts on advancing the peace accord developed by Ivorians, rather than publicizing information on human rights collected nearly a year ago.

"There is no more war. The crisis has been handled. We are working towards the elections. What are they [U.N.] talking about? People are trying to give credibility to nonsense," said Bahi. "Ivory Coast is the leading country in West Africa. If we are suffering, the whole West Africa region is suffering, so the U.N. has to understand that. They released a statement coming back to human rights. We have time to deal with these kind of issues. Right now, let us implement the Ouagadougou agreement. That is what is most important."

New Forces rebel group spokesman Cisse Sindou says as long as human rights are being violated in Ivory Coast, peace will not exist.

"This [human rights] is a key issue to the return of peace in Ivory Coast. I do not think anyone should close their eyes on any human rights violations. I think usually the international community thinks we are a little too hard on our criminals, but I do not think we let human rights violations go unpunished," said Sindou. "I think everyone knows that by now."

Ivory Coast has been split between the government-held south and the rebel-held north since the start of civil war in late 2002.