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Ivory Coast Rebels Deny Involvement in Massacre


Anti-government rebels in Ivory Coast are denying they massacred more than 50 policemen as alleged in a new Amnesty International report. The document is the latest in a series on reported human-rights violations in the West African country.

The Amnesty International report says at least 52 policemen and eight of their sons were shot execution-style in the early days of the rebel uprising that began last September.

According to the report, the national policemen had surrendered to rebel forces on September 19 in the northern city of Bouake. The policemen and their families had remained at the local garrison, under protection of a white flag, after the rebels took the city.

Amnesty International quotes witnesses who say that after a government counter-offensive on October 6, the rebels rounded up the unarmed policemen, took them to a military camp and shot them at close range.

The report says a handful of survivors were forced to bury the dead in a mass grave.

The alleged atrocity is blamed on the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, the country's main rebel group. Its leader, Guillame Soro, told French television the policemen had not been massacred, but had died in combat.

Mr. Soro also questioned the timing of the report. He said Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo this week offered the justice minister's job to the local Amnesty International representative.

There has been no official confirmation of that alleged offer. But a French-mediated peace accord has been stalled over the allotment of cabinet posts. The rebels have threatened to end a cease-fire if they are not given control of the army and the police.

The Amnesty International report is the latest in a series of denunciations of alleged human rights abuses by both sides during the five-month civil war. The United Nations says state-run death squads have targeted suspected government opponents.

France, the former colonial power, says those responsible for killings and disappearances should face an international tribunal.

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