UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Up to 15 dead and 4,000 displaced in ethnic fighting in troubled west
ABIDJAN, 2 May 2005 (IRIN) - Three days of inter-ethnic fighting in the troubled western Cote d’Ivoire town of Duekoue, has left up to 15 people dead and 4,000 displaced, according to local officials on Monday.
Duekoue lies less than 50 km south of the UN-patrolled confidence zone that marks the front line between a government held south and a rebel held north since a rebellion split the country in two in September 2002.
Fighting broke out on Friday after some Guere people refused to join a strike over security problems that had been organised by the Dioula ethnic group.
The Dioula are mostly Muslims who trace their origins back to northern Cote d'Ivoire and beyond. The Guere are generally animist or Christian and see themselves as the original residents of the region.
"There were 15 people killed in the clashes - ten Dioula and five Guere," Marcel Diahi, deputy Mayor of Duekoue, told IRIN by telephone.
"Though calm has been restored to the town today, there are still lots of problems...some 4,000 people have been displaced," he said.
Military sources could confirm 12 deaths on Monday morning.
Kim Gordon-Bates of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the ICRC had removed 8 bodies and helped 35 injured after the clashes, but said that it was not the only organisation assisting the dead and injured.
"Because of the troubles, more than 3,000 people have been displaced to the Catholic Mission or close to the town hall. We have given out medicines but we are concerned about the water and hygiene situation," Gordon-Bates said.
An Ivorian soldier who declined to be named, told IRIN that the ethnic clash was a direct result of the insecurity in the confidence zone.
"The Dioula traders are regularly attacked in the confidence zone. They say it is the Guere that are attacking them," he said explaining that he knew of many Dioula lorries that had been hijacked by armed militias recently.
Several militia groups loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo operate in the area, which is the country's main cocoa and coffee growing region. Many of their members are from the Guere ethnic group.
One Duekoue resident, Ali Toure, ventured out of his house on his scooter for the first time on Monday to check on his aging parents. Though some of the barricades that were erected in the fighting were now being cleared, the situation remained tense, he said.
"We are frightened because at any moment more fighting could break out. An Imam was killed in his home and the Dioulas burned down the houses of the Gueres – tensions are still running high," Toure told IRIN by telephone.
Traditional leaders were due to meet at the offices of the United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI) on Monday. Residents hope this will ease the situation, said Toure.
Though there is long-standing ethnic tension between the two, these have been exacerbated in government-controlled areas since the civil war erupted.
People of northern origin and immigrants from other West African countries have suffered frequent persecution across the south, sometimes at the hands of their neighbours, at other times by the security forces and militia groups that support Gbagbo.
Hate campaigns on radio, television and in the Abidjan daily newspapers have only served to deepen the existing mistrust.
In Guiglo, 30 km west of Duekoue, five people were killed and many more wounded when soldiers fired on a crowd of We people last week according to local newspaper reports.
The We people were demonstrating against the death of a We youth at the hands of Burkinabe rebels, they said.
The situation was calm again by Monday, according to UN officials from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Guiglo.
Western Cote d'Ivoire saw the heaviest fighting in the months after the September 2002 rebellion.
Last month government and rebel forces began pulling back heavy weapons from the front lines ahead of a long-delayed disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme due to begin on 14 May.
Pre-DDR planning talks that had been scheduled to take place in the capital Yamoussoukro on Monday were delayed at the last minute, due to technical reasons.
Representatives of the government Armed Forces of Cote d'Ivoire (FANCI) and the rebel New Forces are now scheduled to meet on Tuesday.
This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005
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