France calls for UN inquiry into Ivory Coast abuses

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France on Friday called for the United Nations Human Rights Council to set up a "credible and impartial" international probe into reports of large-scale human rights abuses in the Ivory Coast crisis.

"France would like the Human Rights Council to take up the situation in the Ivory Coast as quickly as possible," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, one day after six female protesters were gunned down in Abidjan.

"France would like the Council to institute a credible and impartial commission of inquiry under the auspices of the United Nations," he said.

Ivory Coast is divided between two rival presidential claimants.

The incumbent Laurent Gbagbo controls the armed forces, Abidjan and Ivory Coast's all important cocoa exports, but his rival Alassane Ouattara has been internationally recognised as the winner of last year's presidential vote.

Ouattara is recognised by former colonial power France and by the United Nations, and has the support of a northern former-rebel army, the New Forces, but has been unable to assert control of the key levers of state.

The pair have been locked in a dangerous armed stand-off for several months, but rights monitors and the country's beleaguered UN peacekeeping force UNOCI fear a new round of bloodshed has begun.

At least 50 people have been killed in the past week and 365 since November's disputed vote.

On Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: "I remain extremely concerned about the increasing violence and human rights abuses. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding as people flee the fighting.

"The flaring up of armed clashes in Abidjan and the west of the country puts civilians at grave risk," she said.

The latest skirmishes have forced hundreds to flee the pro-Ouattara Abobo neighbourhood of Abidjan, and unrest in the west of the country has prompted a surge in refugees fleeing into neighbouring Liberia.

The United Nations stepped up its criticism of Gbagbo after his men opened fire on UN workers and briefly detained others on Monday.

"I deplore violent attacks by Laurent Gbagbo's supporters against the United Nations," Pillay said.

The UN rights chief said her office will present a report before the council's session closes on March 25 on the situation in Ivory Coast.

© 2011 AFP

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