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Displaced in Ivory Coast Accuse Government of Burning Their Shelters - 2002-09-27


U.N. refugee agency officials say that refugees in Ivory Coast are accusing government troops of burning down shelters where refugees and displaced people live. The officials say that, since fighting began between rebel and loyalist forces last week, more than 5,000 people have been made homeless in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city.

Refugee agency officials say the prime targets of the attacks have been foreigners, workers from Burkina Faso and refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Kris Janowski, said the increasing hostility is taking place as violence mounts in Ivory Coast. "There is concern that the coup attempt is having a sort of backlash," he said. "You know, 5,000, that's quite a lot of people displaced in Abidjan. And these shantytowns hold tens of thousands, perhaps more people. So, if this were to continue, or if this were to repeat itself, it would cause a major problem in Abidjan and probably other cities."

The Ivory Coast government denies its troops have played any role in the attacks, and blames retired and demobilized soldiers loyal to the rebels for the assaults.

Mr. Janowski said refugee agency officials and those from the International Organization for Migration, IOM, are helping to provide temporary housing for more than 400 people, but he said that is far from enough.

A spokeswoman for the migration organization, Niurka Pineiro, said the refugees and migrant workers have received letters threatening more violence. "Some of these people came to IOM and told them they had received a letter," she said, "and it seems more of these shantytowns will be burnt down and destroyed."

The aid agencies say the refugees and migrant workers are often targets during periods of unrest. Ivory Coast has been plunged into chaos after a coup attempt last week. The uprising is the country's deadliest since a 1999 coup shattered stability in what was once considered West Africa's most prosperous country.