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UN evacuates Ivory Coast workers

The United Nations mission in the Ivory Coast has begun evacuating some 200 employees after frequent attacks on its headquarters.

A UN employee said they were told on Sunday that they were leaving. They were taken by helicopter from the UN base in downtown Abidjan to the airport. Another helicopter was taking them to the northern city of Bouake.

The evacuation order is for all "essential employees". Non-essential employees were already evacuated several months ago. The UN's military personnel are still in Ivory Coast.

The French military force in Ivory Coast secured the airport on Saturday.

The evacuation order came after unknown attackers wielding machetes and guns killed more than 1,000 civilians in the neighbourhood of an Ivory Coast town controlled by forces fighting to install the internationally recognised president, the Catholic charity Caritas said.

The UN mission has been investigating the alleged mass killings in western Duekoue. It said most of the nearly 1,000 peacekeepers based there were protecting about 15,000 refugees at a Catholic mission in the town.

Spokesman Patrick Nicholson, of the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, said workers visited Duekoue on Wednesday and found hundreds of bodies of civilians killed by bullets from small-arms fire and hacked to death with machetes. They estimated more than 1,000 civilians were killed, he said.

The International Federation of the Red Cross put the death toll at about 800, in separate and independent visits on Thursday and Friday.

Mr Nicholson, the Caritas spokesman, said the killings occurred over three days in a neighbourhood controlled by fighters loyal to internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara, though it was not clear who the perpetrators were.

He said the victims included many refugees from fighting elsewhere in the country, where rival forces had been battling over a disputed November election.

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