Sat, Apr 16, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Reprisals rocking the Ivory Coast after its strongman is deposed

By Michelle Faul  /  AP, GUIGLO, IVORY COAST

The young man in civilian clothes didn’t have the right answers for troops loyal to Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and they suspected he was a fighter backing his rival for the presidency. So one of the soldiers kicked the man in the teeth.

Fifteen minutes later, an Associated Press reporter saw his body, the chest torn open by bullets, dumped outside this western town.

Reprisal killings erupted as Ouattara’s fighters made a lightning assault to force his rival, former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo from power. Although Gbagbo was captured on Monday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, suspected Gbagbo supporters are still being rounded up in cities and villages, especially in western Ivory Coast.

Parishioners are reporting the kidnappings of dozens of young men in San Pedro, a Catholic priest in the cocoa-exporting port city in southwestern Ivory Coast said.

He asked not to be named, explaining: “We are all in danger.”

“Every day the [UN] peacekeepers are collecting and burying bodies,” he said. “There is lots of dense bush here. Who knows how many bodies there are.”

Like others, he said young men are being targeted, especially those between 20 and 35.

San Pedro was attacked by pro-Ouattara fighters on April 1 as Gbagbo’s soldiers retreated without resistance, firing into the air.

A resident said the only resistance came from a feared Gbagbo support group called the Young Patriots, who sacked the abandoned army base, donning camouflage uniforms and taking weapons.

The pro-Ouattara fighters pushed the youths back from barricades at the entrance to the city and chased them to the Cathedral of St Pierre downtown. Near the cathedral, an unknown number of Young Patriots were killed, the priest said.

Then the invaders surrounded the cathedral with all-terrain vehicles, shot open the gate and fired into a crowd of 5,000 residents who had taken refuge there. The priest said the refugees belonged to the Bete, Guere and other tribes that support Gbagbo.

The pro-Ouattara forces stopped shooting after one man was killed and several people were wounded, he said.

A woman at the cathedral who was too scared to give her name said her neighbor, the headmaster of the Catholic primary school, was killed on Monday night at his home because he belonged to the wrong tribe.

“We have a very toxic and explosive mix here of political, ethnic, religious and land rivalry,” the priest said. “The recent tumultuous events have brought long-simmering conflicts to a head. Who knows where this will end.”

On Monday, on a road north of San Pedro, a reporter saw pro-Ouattara fighters at a roadblock outside the cocoa farming center of Soubre order people off a minibus, separate three young men from the group and drag the trio into the thick bush.

On Sunday, in the western town of Guiglo, a reporter detained for three hours by pro-Ouattara forces watched as four young men were interrogated in succession, then taken away. It’s not clear what happened to the first three.

The fourth, who looked about 25, claimed to come from a nearby town, but he was unable to name a single neighborhood there. The soldiers became angry.

Earlier, the commander, who identified himself only as Lt Siloue, was visited by Muslim and Christian elders who said prayers and told him the community welcomed the forces backing Ouattara.

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