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March 15, 2011

Human Rights Watch Accuses Gbagbo Allies Targeting Foreigners in Ivory Coast

by Scott Stearns

Human rights officials say allies of Ivory Coast's incumbent president are targeting foreigners in a campaign of violence that may constitute war crimes. The U.N. certified winner of Ivory Coast's presidential vote says attacks on foreigners must end.

Human Rights Watch says soldiers and militia loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo are attacking immigrants from other West Africa countries, notably Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Niger, and Nigeria.

The group says pro-Gbagbo forces are increasingly engaged in a stream of deadly abuse with no apparent fear of being investigated or held accountable.

Over the last three weeks, Human Rights Watch says it has documented the beating or burning to death of at least 14 West African nationals, as well as the widespread looting of numerous shops and houses they own, and the systematic expulsion of West Africans from areas in at least three neighborhoods of the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Witnesses described victims being beaten to death with clubs, large pieces of concrete, knives, axes, and machetes, while others were doused with petrol and set ablaze.

Mr. Gbagbo made the question of Ivorian identity central to his re-election campaign, challenging the nationality and loyalty of former prime minister Alassane Ouattara by telling voters that the only "real" Ivorian in the race was Laurent Gbagbo.

The African Union last week certified Mr. Ouattara as the rightful winner of November's vote joining the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States in calling on Mr. Gbagbo to give up power.

Mr. Ouattara says immigrants who came to Ivory Coast are welcome to stay and the violence against them must end.

In a television broadcast from the hotel where he is guarded by U.N. peacekeepers, Mr. Ouattara said the debate about the presidential election is over. As president, he pledged to reconcile all Ivorians from all regions as well as what he called "brothers and sisters who have come from elsewhere and for whom Ivory Coast is a land of hospitality", urging everyone to stifle their resentments and build a country that goes beyond the ties of blood.

The International Organization for Migration is evacuating more than 400 Mauritanians at the request of the government in Nouakchott. The group says more than 6,000 Ghanaians have returned home since the violence began in December and many workers from Guinea are crossing back into their own country along with Ivorian refugees.