This is what we know: There was massacre in the town of Duekoue, Cote D’Ivoire. The ICRC confirms it, and UN and NGO teams are on the ground today exhuming mass graves. From the BBC, which has some chilling video to accompany the text.
Standing by a newly dug mass grave, a UN soldier from Morocco is choking with rage and grief. “Five days we’ve been doing this work,” he says. “The stench of bodies…” I ask him if any of the dead are children. He holds up four fingers, then his head nods down and he begins to sob, quietly, into his facemask.
A group of Ivorian soldiers are sitting in the shade at nearby roadblock. We must have driven through 30 just like it to reach the town. The men are supporters of the man recognised as the winner of last year’e elections, Alassane Ouattara. They, and militias linked to them, swept through the region early last week, seizing huge chunks of territory from forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power. This was one of the few places – leaving aside the main city, Abidjan – where they seem to have encountered serious resistance.
“Us? We didn’t kill any of them,” says a young soldier insistently. “I was injured myself. It was the militia groups – they were fighting each other.” The UN soldier comes over and wags a finger: “You mustn’t kill them,” he says. “If you have prisoners, bring them to the authorities. No more killing.” They nod. But the UN man tells me that they’ve rescued several prisoners from cars in recent days. They suspect they were being driven out of town to be killed discreetly.
This is pretty much the kind of humanitarian disaster that people were warning of since January. The ICRC says at least 800 people were massacred. The NGO Caritas puts that number at 1,000.
It would seem that the perpetrators took pains–as war criminals are often do– to cover their tracks. I would expect the International Criminal Court to move on this quickly. The ICC has already out Ivory Coast leaders on notice, meaning there will be a reckoning for these crimes.
In the meantime, the Outtara camp is vehemently denying that their forces were involved at all–even though the massacre occurred as their forces were taking control of the town. Outtara’s ambassador to the France, Ally Coulibaly, is even suggesting that the claims of Caritas are overblown because it is a Christian organization — (implying that it is somehow backing Gbagbo, who is Christian.) That is a disappointing reaction, to say the least.