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US Condemns Political Murders in Ivory Coast - 2003-02-25

The United States Monday condemned political murders and disappearances in Ivory Coast, including the killing earlier this month of Yerefe Camara, a well-known actor and opposition activist. The State Department is calling on authorities in Abidjan to take immediate steps to end such activity.

In a strongly worded statement volunteered to reporters, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States "condemns in the strongest terms" recent murders and disappearances in Ivory Coast, including the case of Mr. Camara who was found dead in Abidjan February 2.

According to Mr. Camara's family, he had been taken into custody by government security forces seven hours before his body was discovered.

Spokesman Reeker said the case of Mr. Camara, and a recent U.N. report indicating that government-connected death squads may be operating in Ivory Coast, "are taken very seriously" by the United States. He called for an immediate end to extra-judicial killings and disappearances and urged authorities in Ivory Coast to take urgent steps to investigate such crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mr. Reeker said a "culture of impunity" must not be allowed to take root in Ivory Coast. He said such a development would be a major setback in the search for peace and national reconciliation in the country, which has been torn by civil war for more than five months.

Investigators for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a report to the Security Council earlier this month that death squads linked to the government were sowing terror and carrying out executions and abductions of opposition leaders and their supporters. It said the units appear to be made of elements close to the government, the presidential guards, and a tribal militia of President Laurent Gbagbo's Bete ethnic group.

The U.N. team also said television and radio stations in Ivory Coast were carrying messages of incitement comparable to those in Rwanda that contributed to mass-scale ethnic killing there in 1994.

Spokesman Reeker said the United States calls on all parties in Ivory Coast to "strictly adhere" to international norms concerning human and civil rights. The Bush administration last month strongly endorsed the peace accords negotiated with French and West African mediation help in Marcoussis near Paris aimed at ending the Ivory Coast's civil war.

In a January 31 statement, the White House said the Marcoussis framework, including power sharing between the government and rebels, offered "new hope" for an open and democratic resolution of the conflict and said it was "critical" that all political factions restrained their supporters from further violence.

The Marcoussis accords have thus far not taken hold, but negotiations for a national unity government are continuing in Abidjan, following crisis talks last week in Paris on the sidelines of the Franco-African summit.