Amnesty exposes rebel atrocities, calls for end to impunity

Cote d'Ivoire's main rebel group, the Mouvement patriotique de Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI), executed dozens of gendarmes (paramilitary policemen) and some of their children in the central town of Bouake in October 2002, Amnesty
International reported this week. The report was denied by the MPCI, which called it a political diversion.

Amnesty said the victims were amoung some 60 gendarmes and a number of civilians, including about 50 of their children, who had been detained on 6 October by the MPCI. Some of the victims were executed in a military prison while others were killed at the site of a mass grave after being made to bury their comrades, according to testimonies which Amnesty investigators
who visited Cote d'Ivoire in December obtained from survivors of the massacre.

The human rights watchdog said it had originally delayed the publication of its report so as not to endanger the lives of its sources, some of whom were still in the hands of the rebels. However, the detainees had since been
able to buy their freedom after paying ransoms ranging from about US $1,250 to US $1,670 (in local currency), collected by friends and relatives and sent to their goalers.

Amnesty also said that at a meeting in Paris on 29 January with MPCI Secretary-General Guillaume Soro and other MPCI leaders, it had asked the group to identify the perpetrators of the massacres and relieve them of their posts so as to prevent future abuses.

According to Amnesty, the MPCI leaders had not denied the reports although they said they had no personal knowledge of the facts. They also said they were willing to accept an international investigation as long as it covered abuses committed by all sides since the start of the conflict in September 2002.

However, on Thursday, the MPCI denied the accusations by Amnesty, calling them a political diversion. AFP reported one of the rebel chiefs, Sgt Cherif Ousmane, as saying that the gendarmes were killed during fighting, not in cold blood. He claimed that the report had been issued to give Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo an excuse for not implementing an agreement
concluded by the rebels and Cote d'Ivoire's main political parties in late January in Marcoussis, Paris.

The Marcoussis agreement provides for a government of national reconciliation headed by a consensus prime minister. Former premier Seydou Diarra was chosen nearly a month ago to head the new government but his efforts to put together a cabinet including representatives of the parties to the Marcoussis agreement have so far been unsuccessful.

Reacting to the Amnesty report on Thursday, a spokesman for the Frenchgovernment said all human rights abuses committed since 19 September - the start of the rebellion - should be identified and their perpetrators tried, AFP reported.

Amnesty also referred to other massacres committed since September, including in Daloa, where many Malians, Burkinabe and Guineans were killed in October 2002 when loyalist forces recaptured the western town from the rebels. Other massacres - blamed on loyalist forces - were perpetrated in Monoko-Zohi and Man, both in the west, in November and December.

Amnesty linked the series of massacres to the issue of impunity in general, and in particular to the fact that the killing of young Northerners by gendarmes during political upheavals in Abidjan in October 2001 had gone unpunished. Those killings came to light when the bodies of 50 youths were found in a wooded area in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Yopougon.

The international watchdog noted that, according to survivors of the October 2002 massacre, the perpetrators had presented their act as retribution for the Yopougon killings.

"The impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the Yopougon massacre, in particular, fed the rancour of the relatives of the victims and affected the trust which the inhabitants of Cote d'Ivoire had in the justice of their country," Amnesty said.