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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
Ivory Coast 'fanning ethnic hatred'
protestors
Presidential elections descended into violence
The Ivory Coast Government has been accused of deliberately fanning ethnic hatred for political ends in a new report by the lobby group Human Rights Watch.

The New-York based group says the security forces targeted northerners and Muslims, seen as supporting opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in last year's elections.

Africans have often been the victims of racism but they can also be perpetrators

Human Rights Watch

The report, "The New Racism" was released ahead of the United Nations World Conference against Racism, which opens in South Africa on Friday.

Peter Takirambudde, head of HRW's Africa Division said: "The World Conference should condemn the Ivorian leaders who have promoted intolerance based on ethnic and religious differences."

'State-sponsored violence'

"Africans have often been the victims of racism but they can also be perpetrators," he said.

The group says that more than 200 people were killed in the past year, while others were tortured, raped and arbitrarily detained.

It calls this "state-sponsored violence" saying that the paramilitary police, or gendarmes, were largely responsible.

protests in Abidjan
The protests forced Guei out of office but then degenerated into ethnic clashes

Earlier this month, eight gendarmes were found not guilty of massacring 57 civilians, whose bodies were found in a field on the outskirts of the commercial capital, Abidjan, days after last October's presidential elections.

The only two survivors said they were too afraid to testify in the military court.

The BBC's West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle says that the past two years have seen Ivory Coast descend from being one of the most stable countries in Africa to one where many citizens and foreign residents feel insecure.

'Immunity'

During the controversial poll, the gendarmes crucially took the side of Laurent Gbagbo - who won - against military leader Robert Guei, who had tried to remain in power despite losing the popular vote.

By the time of parliamentary elections in December, the report says, "The relationship between the security forces and the youth wing of Gbagbo's party had consolidated, with the latter enjoying complete immunity, even when they committed atrocities in the presence of gendarmes and police."

Laurent Gbagbo
Gbagbo inherited ethnic tensions but has used them for his own political ends

The December poll as also marred by serious violence, including threats from some northern areas to secede from Ivory Coast.

Human Rights Watch accepts that President Gbagbo was not the first Ivorian leader to manipulate ethnic tensions but says he "failed to take credible steps to bring to justice the perpetrators of violent human rights crimes".

Mr Gbagbo's two predecessors, Mr Guei and the man he ousted, Henri Konan-Bedie, prevented Mr Ouattara standing for elections, accusing him of being a foreigner, from neighbouring Burkina-Faso.

Observers say that this created a climate in which northerners and Muslims were seen as being foreign.

See also:

27 Oct 00 | Africa
Mass killing in Ivory Coast
30 Oct 00 | Africa
Ivory Coast reins in soldiers
02 Nov 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Ivory Coast: Reflections on people power
25 Oct 00 | Africa
Ivory Coast's uncertain future
25 Oct 00 | Media reports
Ivory Coast minister defects
25 Oct 00 | Media reports
Guei victory speech
25 Oct 00 | Africa
In pictures: Ivory Coast uprising
25 Oct 00 | Media reports
Gbagbo addresses Ivorian nation
01 Nov 00 | Africa
No sanctuary for General Guei
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