GENEVA, April 2, (AFP) - At least 800 people have been killed during fighting for control of Ivory Coast's western city of Duekoue, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
“At least 800 people were killed in Duekoue on Tuesday,” an ICRC spokeswoman in Geneva, Dorothea Krimitsas, told AFP, adding that information on the deaths had been gathered by Red Cross representatives who visited the area on Thursday and Friday.“There is no doubt that something on a large scale took place in this city, on which the ICRC is continuing to gather information,” she said, adding that Red Cross representatives had “themselves seen a very large number of bodies”.
The report came as forces loyal to the country's cornered strongman Laurent Gbagbo were fighting off an attack by his rival's army and fighting shook Abidjan.
Under immense foreign pressure and besieged by internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara's forces in the economic capital, Gbagbo was nonethless clinging to power -- with his allies insisting he was relaxing at home with his wife.
The United States, France, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the African Union urged Gbagbo to step down immediately, citing concerns over citizens caught up in the country's bloody post-election conflict.
The ICRC said in a statement that 28 bodies had been taken to a Duekoue morgue and more would be removed in coming days.
“Everything seems to indicate that this was interethnic violence,” said Krimitsas.
The head of the ICRC delegation in Ivory Coast, Dominique Liengme, said that the “incident is particularly shocking by its size and brutality”, according to the statement.
“The ICRC condemns direct attacks on civilians and reminds the parties to the conflict to make sure that people in the territory under their control must be protected under all circumstances,” she added.
The Geneva-based organisation said that tens of thousands of women, men and children had fled the fighting and looting in Duekoue since Monday.
Duekoue lies on a major strategic crossroad in the west of the country and has been under the control of Ouattara forces since Tuesday after two days of fighting.
UN agencies were concerned for the lives of tens of thousands of displaced people who have sought shelter at a Catholic mission in the town.
“According to a priest most displaced people have not eaten in two days and about 80,000 food rations and kitchen equipment are urgently needed,” said International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokeswoman Jemini Pandya.