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Ivory Coast ‘president’ denies massacre claim

By Daniel Howden

Ivory Coast's president-in-waiting, Alassane Ouattara, has denied United Nations charges that his men massacred hundreds of civilians in the west of the country during last week's military offensive.

Reports have been emerging of a mass killing in the western town of Duekoue, where thousands of civilians are sheltering from the fighting in a Catholic Mission.

The United Nations mission in Ivory Coast yesterday started evacuating its 200 employees after frequent attacks on its headquarters.

They were taken by helicopter from the UN base to the airport. Another helicopter will take them to the northern city of Bouake.

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

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

A joint team from the UN and the Catholic charity Caritas that visited the town to investigate the massacre said up to 1,000 people had been killed or had “disappeared”.

Caritas said it did not know who was responsible for the killings but UN officials said Mr Ouattara's troops were at least partially at fault.

Guillaume Ngefa, the deputy head of the human rights division of the UN's Mission in Ivory Coast, told French television that Mr Ouattara's forces were responsible for hundreds of the deaths last week.

UN officials said that |traditional hunters known as Dozos joined the Ouattara forces in killing 330 people in Duekoue.

The economist and former luminary at the International Monetary Fund has been careful to hold the moral high ground that he took after his presidential opponent Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power despite losing the November election.

He waited for four months after the disputed poll, participating in international talks to resolve the crisis before ordering his Forces Nouvelles to sweep down from the north.

Mr Ouattara's office issued a statement yesterday denying the UN allegations: “The government [of Mr Ouattara] notes with regret that the allegations of the deputy chief of ONUCI [United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire] human rights division are not supported by any evidence after its preliminary investigation.”

The Ouattara officials also denied that Dozos were part of its forces and invited international human rights organisations to investigate the killings and rights violations.

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