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July 27, 2011

Amnesty International: Displaced Ivorians Fear Going Home

Hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled their homes in Ivory Coast during the recent political crisis are too scared to go back, according to the international campaign group Amnesty International.

“We went in Cote d'Ivoire last June and we saw that there are still many people who don't dare to return home because there is a reign of fear put in place by the security forces and by a militia of Dozo, who are traditional hunters, who are frightening people, intimidating people, so that these people cannot return home and retrieve their lands,” said Salvatore Sagues, a researcher for Amnesty International on Ivory Coast.

He says Ivorian leader Alassane Ouattarra must put an end to the violence.

Former leader Laurent Gbagbo was ousted in April after losing a violent power struggle that followed a disputed election last year.

Gbagbo is now under house arrest but Amnesty says militia loyal to Ouattara has not disbanded. As a result, Amnesty says, many people have not returned home.

The reports quotes United Nations figures that over 600,000 Ivorians remained displaced at the end of June.

Phil Clark, an expert on Ivory Coast at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, says Ivory Coast is suffering from the same problems today as it was before last year’s disputed elections.

He says mass migration to cocoa-producing regions means tensions are high.

"So I think what we have seen in the last couple months is those very difficult issues of migrant status and land have come to the fore," said Clarke. "And if you lay on top of that Ouattara's forces wanting to wipe out Gbagbo's supporters who remain in the country you have a very toxic mix."

Ouattara signed a decree Wednesday for a commission of inquiry into crimes committed after last year’s election. He says he wants to put Gbagbo and his aids on trial for war crimes.

Clarke says Ouattara must also work hard to fix the root causes of trouble in Ivory Coast.

"There also needs to be a much deeper economic and political response to what's going on, recognizing that many of these problems, especially in the west of the country, run very deep and simply changing the leadership at the national level isn't going to deal with those problems," said Clarke.

Ouattara has vowed that justice will be applied to all those responsible for violence following the election.

He says his supporters will not get special treatment.