5,000 displaced in reprisals, 270 killed in failed coup

At least 5,000 people were displaced and hundreds of residential shelters burnt down in the suburbs of Abidjan, in reprisals that followed Thursday's failed coup attempt, according to humanitarian sources.

Red Cross officials told IRIN on Sunday that the displaced included immigrants from Burkina Faso, Liberia and Mali, as well as a number of Ivorians. At least 2,000 were being assisted by humanitarian agencies.

State media said that initial reports indicated that at least 270 people had been killed and 300 injured in various parts of the country since the violence broke out in the cities of Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo.

Humanitarian agencies were due to conduct a needs assessment on Monday. There were however fears that continuing reprisals could also trigger off a movement of Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees out of the country.

The government on Saturday appealed to its gendarmes (police) and other Ivorians to avoid targeting innocent people. Red Cross officials said the appeals had been ignored in some parts of the country.

Diplomats said the reprisals were fuelled by Ivorian government statements that a neighbouring country had a hand in the uprising. Burkina Faso's Ministers of Security and Defense, Djibril Bassole and Kouame Lougue, denied the claims on Friday.

In the upmarket Abidjan suburb of Cocody, the home of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara was partially destroyed by a fire on Saturday night after he sought refuge in the French ambassador's residence. However, the government said opposition leaders were not a target.

Ouattara, the head of the Rally for Republicans party and a former prime minister, had until 30 June been denied Ivorian citizenship and participation in political office, on the grounds that he was Burkinabe.

Calm returned to most of Abidjan over the weekend. Some roadblocks were set up but a curfew was relaxed on Sunday and is now operatinal from 20:00 GMT to 06:00 GMT. Shops and offices re-opened in Abidjan on Monday.

France flew in 100 troops on Saturday to protect its 20,000 citizens in Cote d'Ivoire and the Ivorian government directed all members of the security forces, including the police and army, to report on duty at the weekend.

The central and northern towns of Bouake, 350 km north of Abidjan, and Korhogo, 634 km north, were still under the control of mutinering soldiers on Monday, according to diplomats.

Missionaries in Bouake told IRIN on Monday that the city was "quiet except for occasional shots", but that water had stopped flowing in the taps earlier in the day. A curfew remained in place from 18:00 GMT to 08:00 GMT.

Some 200 children, the majority children of American missionaries, were trapped in a boarding school in Bouake, sources said. Football teams from Senegal, Sierra Leone and Gambia also remained in a hotel and were feared to be running out of water and food.

Diplomatic sources in Abidjan said the government had planned a major offensive to dislodge the mutineers. But it opted to first try to negotiate, partly because the mutineers still held the Minister of Sports and Lesiure Activities, Francois Amichia, and his wife.

There were also reports that the mutineers were arming young men around the two towns to help fight against government troops. State radio on Sunday broadcast a government statement appealing to "the youth" to desist from getting involved in the fighting.

News agencies reported that French soldiers arrived in Yamoussoukro, 100 km from Bouake, on Monday to guarantee the safety of French and foreign nationals. They had secured the airport.

The coup attempt has been condemned among others by the United States which called on the rebels to lay down their arms and negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict.