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Allegations of Human Rights Abuses in Ivory Coast Cause Deep Concern - 2002-12-27

A U.N. team is in Ivory Coast meeting with government and rebel leaders to investigate allegations of human rights violations by both sides. Meanwhile, the war of words continues between President Laurent Gbagbo and his political opponents.

A six-person delegation from the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights has already met with President Gbagbo on Thursday and will travel to the rebel stronghold of Bouake Saturday for talks with rebel leaders.

U.N. officials say the team, led by deputy high commissioner Bertie Ramcharan, is here to evaluate the human rights situation in Ivory Coast and submit a report to the Security Council.

The Security Council dispatched the team after allegations arose of mass killings of civilians, and other serious human rights violations by both sides in the conflict.

Meanwhile, President Gbagbo has submitted his new plan for peace to other West African leaders. Draft copies of the proposal indicate he is willing to form a government of national unity and hold a referendum on several key issues important to the rebels, including the controversial matter of nationality.

But the president has warned his critics not to place their expectations too high. He is rejecting rebel demands for his resignation, and he says he will not overhaul the constitution, either. He says Ivorians have already made "huge efforts" to solve this problem.

While Mr. Gbagbo is proposing peace through national unity, he has continued to suggest his main political opponent is at least partly to blame for the crisis.

In remarks broadcast on state television late Thursday, Mr. Gbagbo singled out opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, without actually naming him.

President Gbagbo said since 1993, the candidacy of a single man has caused problems. He then said, instead of constantly asking the Ivorian people to make efforts, "we should also ask this one man to make some effort."

The president's remarks are seen as taking a swipe at Mr. Ouattara, who was barred from running for president in the year 2000 because of allegations he was not actually an Ivorian citizen. Mr. Gbagbo's government has granted Mr. Ouattara formal citizenship, theoretically settling the debate.

But the opposition leader fled the country last month after hiding out at the French ambassador's residence for weeks. He says he believes he would be killed if he returned to Ivory Coast.

Members of the ruling party have repeatedly accused Mr. Ouattara of involvement with the rebels a charge he denies. But last week the exiled opposition leader said he would seek talks with the insurgents and other opposition parties as part of a peace initiative.

He joined the rebels in calling for Mr. Gbagbo to resign and hold new elections.

The northern rebel group that supports Mr. Ouattara the Popular Movement of Ivory Coast has already rejected Mr. Gbagbo's peace plan.