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December 10, 2022

French step up Ivory Coast patrols as battle looms

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded Gbagbo step aside immediately. 800 people were shot to death.

ANIDJAN – French peacekeepers in war-torn Ivory Coast stepped up patrols in the main city Sunday as a battle for Abijdan seemed to be looming. United Nations helicopters patrolled the skies over the city as a tense calm reigned, a local resident told CNN.

The man, whom CNN is not naming to protect his safety, said he had been to church as usual, where another parishioner said he had seen dead bodies by the road on his way to the congregation.

The uneasy peace came in the wake of claims of a massacre as fighters backing internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara battle forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to leave office. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded Sunday that Gbagbo step aside immediately. “Gbagbo is pushing Cote d’Ivoire into lawlessness,” she said, using the French name for the country. “He must leave now so the conflict may end.” She also called “on the forces of President Ouattara to respect the rules of war and stop attacks on civilians.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said 800 people were shot to death in the western cocoa-producing town of Due­koue. A United Nations official put the death toll so far at 330.

The massacre occurred between Monday and Wednesday as Ouattara’s Republican Forces led an offensive through the country to Abidjan, said Guillaume Ngefa, the deputy human rights director at the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast.

He blamed 220 deaths on forces loyal to Ouattara. Ngefa said pro-Gbagbo forces killed 100 people. “We have evidence, we have pictures. This was retaliation,” he said, referring to Ouattara’s forces.

The Ouattara camp said it “firmly rejects such accusations and denies any involvement by the Republican Forces of Cote d’Ivoire in possible abuses.”

“The government wishes to establish that the situation is quite the opposite,” it said. “Forces loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo, and its affiliated mercenaries and militias that have engaged in countless atrocities in western Cote d’Ivoire, during their flight before the advance of Republican Forces of Cote d’Ivoire.” Ngefa said so far, 320 bodies have been identified and the actual number could be much higher. He said the dead included civilians as well as mercenaries.

Before the Duekoue killings, human right monitors documented 462 deaths in the Ivory Coast conflict, which would make the Duekoue massacre the single bloodiest incident yet.

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