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Saturday, 7 December, 2002, 14:28 GMT
'Foreigners' in Ivory Coast mass grave
Government troops heading for Man
The army claims to have retaken the western town of Man
A mass grave found in the western village of Monoko-Zohi in Ivory Coast on Thursday contained bodies of immigrants, representatives of the local community say.

The leader of the village's Burkinabe` community, Ibrahima Ouedraogo, said the grave held 120 men.

Mr Ouedraogo said the men had been killed by Ivory Coast soldiers, and buried by villagers when the soldiers left two days later.

French soldiers found the grave following fierce fighting between government soldiers and rebel groups.

The French have not investigated who was behind the massacre.

The government denies any responsibility, saying the rebels are to blame - the village is in rebel-held territory.

Ivory Coast used to be West Africa's richest country but 11 weeks after an army mutiny, some diplomats fear that it could descend into the anarchy and massive blood-letting of civil wars in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The conflict could also draw in several neighbouring countries, which have many thousands of citizens in Ivory Coast or which are accused of backing one or other sides.

Weeks of talks mediated by West African diplomats have failed to find a political solution to the crisis, which escalated last week when two new rebel groups emerged in the west of the country.

Massacre

The mass grave was found in territory held by the rebel Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI) 70km north-west of the key cocoa-trading town of Daloa, which is now in loyalist hands.

Mr Ouedraogo said Ivorian army troops arrived in the village, travelling in six trucks with Ivorian military markings.

The victims had been killed by "men in uniform," who were "aided by some villagers".

Rebel fighter
The rebels are recruiting young Ivorians
He said soldiers had accused merchants of feeding the rebels before going from house to house rounding up and killing men, at times working from a list of names.

The bodies were found protruding from a mound which was 30 metres wide and two metres high, said a spokesman for the French forces in Ivory Coast, Lieutenant Colonel Ange-Antoine Leccia.

The MPCI dominates the largely Muslim north of the country, while troops loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo retain control of the mainly Christian south.

MPCI regional commander Zacharias Kone blamed the killings on the government, which attacked earlier this week.

Mr Gbagbo has blamed the rebels for the mass killing.

"The president has been informed and he is profoundly shocked by this macabre discovery. This can only be a crime committed by the rebellion," his spokesman Alain Toussaint said.

Corpses everywhere

People have been fleeing the fighting in Man, one of four towns captured last weekend by new rebel groups the Movement for Justice and Peace and the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Great West.

Eyewitnesses fleeing Man, which the army said they recaptured earlier this week, report that the streets are littered with bodies.

People fleeing into Liberia
People are fleeing Ivory Coast for Liberia
"There were hundreds of dead... Everywhere we went was piled with corpses," said philosophy teacher Julien Adeko Achi, adding that the bodies had fallen "like dead chickens ahead of a New Year feast".

They say they are fighting to avenge the death of former military ruler, Robert Guei, who was killed in the first days of the rebellion in late September.

The United Nations human rights commissioner, Sergio Vieira de Mello, has warned both sides in the conflict that they would be brought to trial by the International Criminal Court for any serious crimes committed during the fighting.


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26 Nov 02 | Africa
25 Nov 02 | Africa
21 Nov 02 | Africa
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