Liberia + 1 more

UN report links Ivory Coast massacre to Liberian mercenaries

By Joe Bavier

Abidjan, 07 July 2005 - An internal United Nations intelligence report has linked Liberian mercenaries to a massacre that killed dozens in Ivory Coast's volatile west last month. The report has surfaced as the UN's human rights chief is in the country to combat rights violations.

The report focuses on the events surrounding massacres in the western villages of Petit Duekoue and nearby Guitrozon, where more than 40 people were shot, hacked to death with machetes, or burned alive in their homes in the early hours of June 1.

All the victims were from the local Guere ethnic group. Western Ivory Coast has long been the scene of violence between indigenous ethnic groups and northern migrants. At the time, government officials, blamed the massacres on traditional hunters from the north, backed by the New Forces rebels. The rebels have controlled the northern half of Ivory Coast since civil war broke out nearly three years ago.

The U.N. intelligence report gives a different version of events, stating that Liberian mercenaries, hired by pro-government militia groups in Ivory Coast, carried out the killings.

The report says the mercenaries were from Liberia's Krahn ethnic group, who had been originally hired to attack northern immigrants. According to the report, they were offered money and the chance to take part in Ivory Coast's disarmament process in exchange for attacking an immigrant village.

But when the money was not paid up front, the report continues, a dispute broke out between the Krahn mercenaries and the largely Guere militia group that hired them. In revenge, the mercenaries attacked the Guere villages of Guitrozon and Petit Duekoue.

Ivorian soldiers in and around the nearby city of Duekoue, the document says, had been told to stand down. And security forces at a checkpoint only a few hundred meters from the scene of the killings never reacted.

Officials at Ivory Coast's United Nations peacekeeping mission declined to comment on the intelligence report, which was never intended for release.

The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, is due to visit Guitrozon Friday, as part of a trip intended to highlight widespread human rights abuses throughout the war-divided country.

The United Nations has not opened an official human rights investigation into last month's massacres, which took place in government-held territory. Instead, U.N. officials say they are helping Ivorian authorities in their inquiry.