Côte d'Ivoire

Red Cross official fears increasing violence in Ivory Coast

By Lisa Schlein

Geneva, 09 July 2005 - A Red Cross official says he is very worried about the deteriorating security situation in western Ivory Coast, telling VOA violence is increasing.

Pierre Ryter has just completed a three-year assignment as head of the ICRC delegation in the Ivory Coast. He tells VOA, a massacre that killed dozens of people in the area of Duekoue in June was different from previous killings.

"It was not the first massacre that took place," Mr. Ryter said. "Especially in 2002-2003 in western part of Cote d'Ivoire, there were several such massacres. This year, of course, this incident took everyone by surprise, not the fact that people were killed, but the fact that you had such a large number of women and children being killed. And, in Cote d'Ivoire, so far, most of the killings just targeted male, adult males."

In the western villages of Petit Duekoue and nearby Guitrozon, more than 40 people were shot, hacked to death with machetes, or burned alive in their homes in the early hours of June 1.

The United Nations came under criticism for the violence, which happened in a government controlled area, but near a so-called zone of confidence dividing army troops from rebels.

Mr. Ryter says the Red Cross is seriously concerned about the protection of civilians and punishment for those who commit atrocities.

"And, now, of course, given the political situation, there are many fears that things can happen there, without anyone taking responsibility for it, because there is supervision for sure," he said. "But, again, the supervision is, I would say, overall security, but there is no administration in place. There is a complete kind of lack of control by any kind of organized administration."

Last week, President Laurent Gbagbo signed a decree installing a military administration to oversee western Ivory Coast, following the massacres in Duekoue.

The Red Cross official says it is crucial that new laws on nationality and a disarmament agreement among the different factions be implemented. If the disarmament process does not begin this month as agreed, he says, there could be a resumption of hostilities.