Amnesty to review human rights situation

A team from the international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, arrived in Cote d'Ivoire on Monday to investigate human rights violations perpetrated since the beginning of an armed conflict in the West African country.

The 10-day mission will focus mainly on the economic capital, Abidjan, where Amnesty plans to investigate 'Death squads'- groups of armed men in military uniforms who have kidnapped and killed - usually at night - opposition activists and other civilians in recent months. The four-member mission will meet President Laurent Gbagbo, officials of the defence and justice ministries, other top government officials, political leaders and representatives of civil society, Amnesty sources told IRIN on Tuesday.

The team is also scheduled to visit prisons and other detention centres, something Amnesty was unable to do during its last mission - in October 2002. Security forces had said then that such visits required a "green light" from the Minister of Defence even though, according to Amnesty, Justice Minister Desire Tagro had authorised the visits.

The Abidjan mission follows last week's highly publicized report on killings committed by Cote d'Ivoire's main rebel group, the Patriotic Movement of Cote d'Ivoire. The report accused the MPCI of executing soldiers, gendarmes and their children. The MPCI denied this, saying the victims died in the heat of battle.

Amnesty called on the Ivorian government to ensure the team's protection so that its mission could be conducted "without obstacles and intimidations", the organisation said in a communique. It recalled that during its October mission, a delegation member was arrested by security forces as he spoke with women who had lost their homes as a result of the destruction of shantytowns. According to Amnesty, the team member - Gaetan Mootoo - and the women were eventually released on the order of Minister Tagro.

Mootoo is participating in the present mission, along with Demba Cire Bathily, Alex Neve and Hubert Dubois.

For more information from Amnesty on Cote d'Ivoire