President calls for probe into poll violence

Togo's newly elected President Faure Gnassingbe has ordered a probe into the violence triggered by the disputed poll that brought him to power last month.

He signed a decree on Wednesday creating a “special national independent commission of inquiry into the acts of violence and vandalism which took place before, during and after the 24 April presidential election."

Gnassingbe is accused by the opposition of winning the poll through massive fraud, tolerated by ministers who served under his late father and who initially wanted him to become head of state without the formality of an election.

The US-educated 39-year-old businessman and former cabinet minister was originally declared head of state by the government in February following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the tiny West African nation for 38 years.

International pressure forced Gnassingbe to step down three weeks later, but he then stood as the presidential candidate of the ruling Rally for the Togolese People (RPT) party.

Official election results credited Gnassingbe with just over 60 percent of the vote, but the father-to-son transition has plunged Togo into violence.

As soon as the results were broadcast, opposition supporters crying foul play took to the streets, only to be beaten back by the security forces.

In the month since the election, more than 33,000 people have fled to seek safety in neighbouring Benin and Ghana, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The non-governmental organisation CARE and other aid groups reckon that a further 10,000 people have been internally displaced within Togo.

The decree signed by Gnassingbe said the commission of inquiry would determine the circumstances of the violence and vandalism, evaluate losses and launch legal proceedings against those found to be responsible.

The president named a former prime minister, Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, who led an earlier attempt to bring more democracy to Togo, as head of the commission.

Koffigoh, a lawyer and former human rights activist, served as prime minister from 1991 to 1993 at a time when the late president Eyadema started to move Togo from a one-party state to a multi-party system.

The head of the Supreme Court, Tete Tekoe, was appointed as Koffigoh's deputy on the commission of inquiry.

The 10-member commission, which has three months to deliver its conclusions, also includes members of two Togolese human rights groups, one of which has said 58 people died in the country’s post-election violence, while the other put the death toll at 790.

Gnassingbe, hoping to bridge a bitter political divide with his opponents, began meeting leaders of minor opposition parties on Wednesday to discuss the formation of a government of national unity.

Gnassingbe has also invited the coalition of six main opposition parties, which fielded a single candidate against him in last month's election, to join the talks.

However, the opposition alliance which backed Emmanuel Bob-Akitani for the presidency has so far been less than enthusiastic about the prospect of joining a power-sharing government under Gnassingbe's leadership, a proposal backed by African and other world leaders as a way out of the crisis.

"We still have a problem of legitimacy,” Yawovi Agboyibo, a spokesman for the coalition of six opposition parties, told IRIN.

“If he proposes a government of national unity, we will have to discuss further whether this could be at all credible," Agboyibo added.

Rights groups and refugees fleeing from Togo say the police, the army and unofficial pro-government militia groups are continuing to threaten and detain suspected opposition supporters, especially at night.

At first, the exodus from Togo mainly consisted of women and children, but aid workers in Benin said that over the last week or so, most of the new arrivals have been men aged between 18 and 30.

Lome is situated right on Togo's western border with Ghana, but refugee officials in Ghana told IRIN that the influx of refugees across this border appears to have all but stopped.

However, many people from the capital are still crossing the eastern border into Benin, which is only 80 km away.

Ghana is English-speaking and many of the Francophone Togolese appear to find it easier to adapt to life in French-speaking Benin.

Some opposition supporters still in the capital told IRIN they were too frightened to sleep in their beds or even in their own neighbourhoods.

Pap, a second year university student, said he had not been home since 16 March, when he heard the security forces were looking for him.

"I'm staying with this old guy, he's another opposition supporter. I met him in the street and he invited me to stay with him," he told IRIN.

“He’s been very kind,” Pap said. “I suppose he could see himself or his son in the same predicament, so he decided to help.”