Ivory Coast: Amnesty International Calls for Urgent Protection and Assistance to Population of Ivory Coast, as Civilians Flee Heavy Fighting

Press Release
March 1, 2011

Ivory Coast: Amnesty International Calls for Urgent Protection and Assistance to Population of Ivory Coast, as Civilians Flee Heavy Fighting

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Amnesty International Calls for Urgent Protection and Assistance to Population of Ivory Coast, as Civilians Flee Heavy Fighting

Civilians Have Little Protection and Are Targeted by Armed Groups

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) – As tens of thousands of civilians flee heavy gunfire amid intensified fighting across the Ivory Coast, Amnesty International today called on authorities to provide urgent protection and assistance to the population, which is being targeted by armed groups on both sides of the political divide.

Clashes between armed commandos and members of the security forces loyal to outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo have persisted for several days in the city of Abidjan, leaving many dead. The violence has escalated in the wake of the disputed presidential election of November 2010. Opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara is the internationally recognized winner of the poll but the outgoing President Gbagbo has refused to step down.

“The humanitarian crisis in Côte d'Ivoire is being exacerbated by the tens of thousands of people fleeing Abidjan who need immediate protection and assistance,” said Véronique Aubert, Amnesty International’s Africa deputy director.

"Many of those displaced by the fighting, including women and children, are having difficulty finding shelter and some are sleeping in the open air.”

Much of the fighting in Abidjan has been between security forces and an armed group calling themselves the "Invisible Commandos," who claim to be fighting independently.

Residents living in the Abobo neighborhood of the city told Amnesty International that the clashes have left them without water or electricity.

The violence has escalated in the wake of the disputed presidential election of November 2010. Opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara is the internationally recognized winner of the poll but the outgoing President Gbagbo has refused to step down.

Several people have also been killed by pro-Gbagbo groups known as The Young Patriots. On Sunday, members of this group burned alive a man they suspected to be a rebel in the neighborhood of Yopougon.

An eyewitness told Amnesty International: “A stranger who was asking for directions was arrested by some Young Patriots. He couldn’t speak French and was not able to make himself understood. They took him to a little alley, put a tire around his neck and set it ablaze.”

Another resident said: “As soon as someone is not known in the neighborhood, the Young Patriots consider him a rebel.”

“These incidents show that the population is left without any effective protection - anyone can be targeted by either side," said Aubert.

Abobo residents told Amnesty International the dire situation had forced them out of the neighborhood.

“We are fleeing because every night we hear exchange of fire and because there has been no water or electricity in our neighborhood for two days - the shops are closed, there is nothing to eat,” one local said today.

Another fleeing resident told Amnesty International: “The bodies of people killed are still lying on the ground. No one is picking them up and we fear a spread of illnesses due to the decomposing bodies.”

Charles Blé Goudé, the Youth Minister appointed by Laurent Gbagbo and leader of the Young Patriots, last week called on people to block U.N. peacekeepers from moving around country, raising the prospect of clashes between civilians and U.N. troops.

The U.N. mission has been targeted and said that that three peacekeepers were wounded on Sunday when they were shot at while patrolling Abobo, accusing supporters of Gbagbo of carrying out an ambush.

The U.N. reported on Monday that two U.N. personnel were abducted and held for several hours by Young Patriots in Abidjan.

In the past week the fighting has extended to other parts of the country.

In the west, clashes between the New Forces - which controls the north and part of the west of the country - and pro-Gbagbo forces have forced thousands of people to flee their homes, some to neighboring Liberia.

Yamoussoukro, the political capital, has also been hit by clashes between security forces loyal to Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara youth.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org