Rebel forces in northern Ivory Coast say they have arrested dozens of youths, amid concerns over worsening human rights conditions in areas under their control and possible splits within their ranks.
Rebel officials say more than 50 people are still being held in the northern city of Korhogo, nearly three weeks after fighting broke out there.
A spokesman from the rebel group New Forces, Sidiki Konate, describes the detained youths as mercenaries from neighboring countries, as well as dissident members of the rebel movement.
"Korhogo has been attacked, and we tried to defend ourselves, and we arrested some people who were in this attack," he said. "We keep them in the jail in Korhogo. We have some mercenaries from Guinea and Liberia, and we have some fighters of the Forces Nouvelles who claim they are fighting for I.B."
I.B. is Ibrahim Coulibaly, who is also a member of the New Forces, but who has broken rank with the rebel leader, Guillaume Soro. Mr. Coulibaly has called on the rebels to begin disarmament, in order to implement an 18-month-old peace agreement in the divided West African nation.
Witnesses to the recent fighting say the youths were arrested at their homes or in the streets, and that many have not been heard from, prompting concern of human rights violations.
Spokesman Mr. Konate says those arrested are being treated fairly and that he welcomes the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, if it wishes to visit the jail.
"We don't hide anything. We permit the United Nations, because they say they accepted that there was a fight, and they heard about some atrocities, but we say there is no atrocity. So, we tell them to come to Korhogo, so that they could ask the people, they could see these people and they could have a real idea of what happened in Korhogo," he said.
A spokesman with the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast has said it is investigating the situation.
The U.N. commission on Human Rights is also sending a delegation to investigate other claims of human rights' violations by rebel and government forces since civil war broke out in September 2002.