LOME, 14 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Six investigators dispatched to Togo by UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour have begun a probe into allegations of killings, torture, abductions and political persecution in the aftermath of a disputed April presidential election.
The team, which includes a forensic expert, plans to meet government officials, political parties, refugees, alleged victims "and anyone who wants to talk to us" during its two-week inquiry which began on Monday, one of its members told IRIN.
More than 36,000 people claiming to fear for their lives have fled Togo since the 24 April presidential poll. And more than seven weeks after the vote, at least 50 are still crossing daily over the border into Benin, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
The refugees allege that people suspected of backing the opposition are even now being abducted and persecuted, the agency said.
A diplomatic source told IRIN that the UN team had been sent in to investigate following appeals from the African Union and the international community to clarify allegations ranging from dozens to hundreds of deaths in political violence, as well as other rights abuse.
Political tension has been high in the tiny West African country since the election, which the opposition says was rigged to allow a father-to-son transition that handed presidential office to Faure Gnassingbe when Gnassingbe Eyadema died after 38 years in power.
In a statement, the UN rights investigators said they aimed to "establish the circumstances leading to alleged human rights violations" between 5 February, when Eyadema died, and 5 May, when his son was sworn into office.
Gnassingbe, a 39-year-old US educated former businessman and cabinet minister who has been under pressure from regional leaders to shore up the country's democratic credentials, has also ordered a domestic probe into the violence triggered by the poll that brought him to power.
The Togolese commission of inquiry, which has three months to deliver its findings, is headed by Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, a former prime minister, lawyer and human rights activist. It is to determine the circumstances of the violence, evaluate losses and launch legal proceedings against those found responsible.
The 10-member commission 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.
The UN team is expected to meet with members of the Togo commission, a Geneva-based spokesman for the UN Human Rights Commissioner said.
The UN investigators are to travel inside the country as well as to neighbouring Benin and Ghana to meet refugees and are due to meet imminently with newly named Prime Minister Edem Kodjo, a moderate who briefly served as prime minister in the mid-1990s under Eyadema.
One of Kodjo's first tasks will be to oversee a new High Commission for Refugees and Humanitarian Action aimed at repatriating the exiles.
Faure Gnassingbe's government has urged them to return, promising "pardon" and "possible compensation".
Meanwhile, although small Benin is struggling to accommodate the Togolese exodus, the international community has largely failed to respond to an appeal to help the 21,640 refugees living there in camps or with family and friends.
In a statement from UN offices in New York on Tuesday, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that more than four weeks after the launch of a call for US $5.95, "yet another UN appeal for an African crisis has failed to garner significant interest from the international donor community."
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