News / Africa

Civilians Flee Fighting in Ivorian Commercial Capital

People fearing for their safety evacuate the Abobo district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, February 24, 2011
People fearing for their safety evacuate the Abobo district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, February 24, 2011

More than 30,000 civilians have fled fighting between supporters of Ivory Coast's rival governments in the commercial capital, Abidjan.  Relief officials say bodies in the streets must be buried as soon as possible.

After nearly two weeks of fighting between supporters of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and his rival, Alassane Ouattara, Abobo resident Arnaud Besso had enough.

Besso says he and his family left Abobo because of all the fighting and killing.  He says security forces are searching houses and that  it is a mess.  There are many people who are dead.  There is nothing to eat because all the markets are closed.  Besso says, If there was anyone who could help the people of Abobo,  they would be most welcome.

With no one to help them, Besso and his family left nearly everything behind and slipped out of Abobo, past Gbagbo militant checkpoints into a relatively calm neighborhood near Abidjan's now-closed zoo.  Climbing a steep hill past a long row of taxis they could not afford, Besso and his wife Clarice Yao were happy to be moving on.

Yao says the last two weeks have been very hard on their four children, who range in age from two-years-old to 18.   She says they are crying whenever they hear the bombs.  Because the situation is not getting better and the children are troubled, parents in Abobo are afraid and must find somewhere else to live.

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator here says some parts of Abobo are deserted, with bodies on the streets that must be buried as soon as possible.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melisa Fleming says religious leaders have told them there are nearly 60 families trapped in a church.

"Some families have been forced to hand over money or personal possessions in order to be allowed to leave," she said. "There are many reports of dead bodies, buses burned and shops looted and young militiamen attacking people inside their homes."

Militiamen backing Mr. Gbagbo say they are in Abobo to fight rebels supporting Mr. Ouattara, who is the U.N.-certified winner of November's presidential election.  Mr. Ouattara's party says the uprising in Abobo has not been organized by rebels, but is instead a fight by angry civilians who have been joined by some defecting members of Gbagbo security forces.

Escalating tension in Abidjan has led to the resumption of Gbagbo militant checkpoints, not only in Abobo but also in the neighborhoods of Cocody, Adjame, Yopougon and Treichville.

Gbagbo supporter Idriss Ouattara is the spokesman of a so-called "vigilance committee" in Port-Bouet near the international airport.

Ouattara says those in his group are here to defend their neighborhoods as volunteers who are not asking anyone for money.  He says such vigilance is noble and dignified work, as each Ivorian must now defend the nation and uncover anything suspicious. Ouattara says today every Ivorian patriot is part of the gendarmerie.

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