The UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) must protect the tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict who wish to return to their home villages but are afraid to do so, Amnesty International said today.
Scores of villages between the towns of Guiglo and Blolequin, 370 miles west of Abidjan, have been burnt 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.
Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s Ivory Coast researcher who currently in the west of the country, said:
”Thousands of people are hiding in the bush in life-threatening conditions and without any proper food or sanitation.
“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. If nothing is done very urgently, the most vulnerable people risk dying from hunger, disease or exhaustion.
“The UNOCI contingent based in Guiglo is conducting two patrols a day in the area, but this is clearly insufficient to effectively protect civilians at risk.
“Amnesty International calls on UNOCI 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.”
In Blolequin the Amnesty delegation witnessed distressing scenes with most of the town destroyed and nearly no civilians present. Scores of Republican Forces loyal to President Alassane Outtara were seen in and around the town. Amnesty is particularly concerned by the fact that the whereabouts of the priest of Blolequin, Damien Gecbeu, remain unknown since an attack by Republican Forces.
At least 47 people were killed in Blolequin on 31 March, Amnesty has learned.
Gaëtan Mootoo added:
“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.”
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, Amnesty’s delegation reports. Some are ill and in urgent need of medical attention.