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Conflict in Ivory Coast Threatens Civilian Rights, says UN Official - 2003-01-13

A senior U.N. official said there is evidence of widespread human-rights violations in the Ivory Coast. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Carolyn McAskie said she will stress the need to protect civilians from abuse when she meets government and rebel leaders in Ivory Coast.

Under-Secretary General McAskie said she is concerned about many things related to the Ivory Coast civil war. One of her main worries, she said, is for the safety and protection of civilians.

"We have a classic conflict situation where civilians seem to have lost their rights in the face of the rebel advances. We are already hearing stories of human rights abuse. There certainly is evidence of human rights abuses. And we are concerned that as usual, the insurgents have very little awareness of international humanitarian law. We are also concerned about issues of sexual abuse, rapes and the issue of child abductions, child soldiers," said Ms. McAskie.

As the U.N. Secretary-General's personal envoy, Ms. McAskie leaves on a three-week mission Friday to Ivory Coast and neighboring West African countries. During her trip, she said she will explore the idea of using U.N. observers to monitor the human-rights situation.

She said she also will try to persuade the rebels to let aid workers reach many thousands of needy people in the Western and northern parts of the country, which are currently held by rebel forces.

The U.N. Official estimates that the fighting has displaced more than one million Ivorians. In addition, she notes tens-of-thousands of Liberian refugees are in need of protection and humanitarian assistance.

Ms. McAskie notes the potential collapse of Ivory Coast is also seriously affecting the economies of neighboring countries and threatens to destabilize the region. "We are worried about incursions from Liberia. We are worried about destabilization in some of the neighbors. The whole question of the impact in Guinea and certainly the economic impact on Mali, on Burkina [Faso] and Niger is potentially very serious," Ms McAskie said. "Remittances from foreign workers, Malian foreign workers in Cote d'Ivoire represented a very high percentage of the cash receipts of the Mali budget. So without that, it is a major loss," she explained.

The U.N. Undersecretary-General saidthe fact that the two western rebel groups signed on to the Ivory Coast cease-fire agreement is good news. She hopes this will clear a major obstacle to gaining access to civilians in the combat zone, and protecting their human rights.