Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Amnesty International Reports "Ghost Villages" of Ivory Coast As Tens of Thousands of Displaced and Fearful Civilians, Their Homes Burned and Looted, Hide in Bush
Urgent Humanitarian Assistance Needed As Displaced Are Left With No Food or Shelter
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, [email protected]
(New York) – Tens of thousands of people who fled fighting in the west of Ivory Coast are hiding in the bush in life-threatening conditions – without food or shelter -- and fear returning to their villages, Amnesty International said today, calling on the United Nations mission to help the displaced civilians. An Amnesty International delegation found "ghost villages" with nearly no civilians in the western part of the country.
”Thousands of people are hiding in the bush in life threatening conditions and without any proper food or sanitation. They need to be reassured and to be allowed to return to their homes,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty’s Ivory Coast researcher, who is currently in the west of the country.
Scores of villages between the towns of Guiglo and Blolequin, 372 miles west of Abidjan, have been burned or looted and almost all local inhabitants have fled following the fighting that took place in the area at the end of March, an Amnesty International delegation on the ground reports.
“We have seen ghost villages with nearly no civilians. Nearly all the 30,000 civilians have fled from Blolequin after intense fighting and massacres took place there” said Mootoo.
“There is an urgent need for international humanitarian assistance to help the tens of thousands of people who are wandering in the bush in the region of Blolequin without any food or shelter. If nothing is done very urgently, the most vulnerable people risk dying from hunger, disease or exhaustion,” Mootoo added.
“The U.N. contingent based in Guiglo is conducting two patrols a day in the area, but this is clearly insufficient to effectively protect civilians at risk,” he said.
Amnesty International is calling for the United Nations to significantly increase its presence in the area, in particular in Blolequin, in order to provide protection and to create conditions that will enable people to return safely to their communities.”
“The Ivorian authorities also have a duty to ensure that displaced civilians are able to voluntarily return to their homes and retrieve their land, if they wish to do so. It is their responsibility under international law,” said Mootoo.
In Blolequin, the delegation witnessed distressing scenes with most of the town destroyed and nearly no civilians present in the town. Scores of Republican Forces loyal to President Alassane Outtara were seen in and around the town. Amnesty International is particularly concerned by the fact that the whereabouts of the priest of Blolequin, Damien Gecbeu, remain unknown since the attack against the town by Republican Forces.
At least 47 people were killed in Blolequin on March 31, Amnesty International has learned.
“Officials of the Republican Forces told us that these people were killed by Liberian mercenaries loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, but only an independent investigation can really establish the truth into these killings and the many others that took place in this area,” Mootoo said.
Around 30 people from the Guere ethnic group, perceived to be supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo, have returned to Blolequin after spending several weeks in the bush, the Amnesty International delegation reports. Some are ill and in urgent need of medical attention.