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UN Calls for Investigation into Brutal Suppression of Ivorian Opposition - 2004-04-01


The United Nations is calling for an international investigation into Ivory Coast government's brutal suppression of an opposition march last week in Abidjan. Calls for an inquiry are multiplying as details of the crackdown emerge and more victims tell their tales of horror.

Children are rollicking near a street café in Anyama, but the faces of the adults next to them are somber, and many bear the scars of recent violence.

Among the patrons at the café is Souleymane Kounyate, a 24-year-old unemployed man whose face is swollen and the skin around his eyes ripped off. Thick welts on his back testify to the severity his beating.

He says he will never be the same after last Thursday when he took part in a protest against the government's failure to implement a peace agreement with rebel forces.

Born in Abidjan, Mr. Kounyate is the son of ethnic Dioula who came from the north. Many northerners are sympathetic with rebels and the opposition. They want the peace accord, which would make them citizens of Ivory Coast, implemented as soon as possible.

He says soldiers grabbed him in the street last Thursday as he walked to join the march and took him to a police station. Then, he says he was beaten with a bike chain and a rifle butt and hit on the head with a brick. He says the police then dragged him outside and left him in the gutter next to the corpses of several people.

A 33-year-old women setting next to him, Djeneba Kone, says she, too, was in the street when she was stopped and hustled into a military van. Inside, she says, the military executed several youths by shooting them point-blank in the head. She says she was beaten at the Agban police station and then taken to a hospital. There, she says, military medics abused women and killed several people with lethal injections. She says she fled the hospital and hid in a nearby forest before walking back home.

In an industrial park about 20 kilometers outside Abidjan, a woman speaking in the Dioula language says that, since the aborted march, security forces have been raiding neighborhoods where foreigners and northerners live. She says sometimes the soldiers are accompanied by youth belonging to militias close to President Gbagbo.

Malian national, Hassane Coulibaly, a cereal factory worker, says security forces came into his courtyard Tuesday and rounded up people, robbed them of money, and ransacked their belongings. He says they took everything of value, including cell phones.

Mr. Coulibaly displays a gash on his arm which he suffered in the raid.

In the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan, Ahmed Mohammed Sidibe says his cousin was killed by security forces even though he was not taking part in the march. People in the streets said soldiers shot and killed anyone who refused to hand over money or valuables.

Mr. Sidibe, who also is a Dioula from the north, says northerners living in Abidjan are living in terror.

"In Cote D'Ivoire it is very dangerous to live in Abidjan because they have decided to kill northerners here," he said. "If they see your name is Dioula, they will kill you. They tell us we are not Ivorian, we come from Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso. But we are Ivorian."

Opposition parties, which organized the march, say as many as 500 people were killed in the crackdown. They joined the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast in calling for an international investigation into the violence. Security Minister Martin Bleou, formerly the head of the national Ivorian Human Rights Commission, says 37 people have been killed since last Thursday, including two policemen, and about 200 people were detained. He rejected, as baseless, rumors of continuing raids by security forces and of mass graves.

But he said Thursday he has evidence there are what he called "parallel forces" within the state security apparatus committing human rights abuses. He said he asked French and West African peacekeepers to help with security in Abidjan.

Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra also blames the continuing violence on shadowy forces that do not act on behalf of the government.

He says the existence of parallel security forces will not be tolerated and calls for the defense and security ministers to put an immediate end to arbitrary detentions, raids, and the use of force. President Gbagbo has sent a letter to the United Nations and the Ivorian parliament saying many of the opposition activists gathering for last Thursday's march were armed, and some of them attacked police stations. He said the opposition members themselves were responsible for rapes and killings, and asked the United Nations to investigate.

Meanwhile, the bruised and battered Mr. Kounyate, and many like him, continue to live in daily fear of violence.

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