UN says Abidjan attack may be crimes against humanity

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Missile attacks by forces loyal to Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo that killed up to 30 civilians in an Abidjan suburb could be crimes against humanity, a spokesman for the UN rights chief said Friday.

"We condemn the rocket attacks on civilian areas," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"It's quite difficult to avoid the conclusion it is a crime... possibly a crime against humanity," he added.

Pro-Gbagbo forces on Thursday launched a missile attack on a market in the stronghold of Ivory Coast's internationally recognised leader Alassane Ouattara.

The event was one of the bloodiest since a disputed presidential election in November plunged the world's top cocoa producer into crisis.

Relief agencies warned that the intensifying violence is hindering aid delivery in the country, particularly in Abidjan and surrounding areas.

"Checkpoints, harassment and armed fighting are reducing humanitarain agencies' ability to move and turning aid delivery into a slow and risky undertaking," said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

She noted that the clashes are also causing more displacements among the population as well as increasing the numbers who have fled across the borders.

Over 300,000 civilians have been displaced in Abidjan.

And Ivorian refugees now number 90,000 in Liberia, while in Ghana, the UNHCR has this week recorded "a sudden rise in the number of Ivorians seeking asylum."

"Over 500 people arrived from Abidjan, when only 160 refugees had previously fled since late November," said Fleming.

"We fear this marks the beginning of a trend since Ghana is only 150 kilometres from Abidjan," said the spokeswoman.

© 2011 AFP

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