GENEVA/ABIDJAN (Reuters) - At least 247 people have been killed in violence in Ivory Coast since its disputed November 28 presidential election, the United Nations human rights office said on Friday.
The death toll is up from 210 a week ago, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a media briefing in Geneva.
The latest figure includes four civilians and seven police killed in clashes in the Abidjan suburb of Abobo this week, and was firmly denied by the camp of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.
“This isn’t possible. We are against all forms of violence,” Gbagbo’s government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello said by telephone. “Our forces are professional. They are there to keep order.”
The world’s top cocoa producer has been in crisis since a November 28 presidential election that both Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara claim to have won.
Ouattara was proclaimed the winner of the U.N.-certified poll by the electoral commission and is recognized by foreign governments. But his win was overturned by the pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council, triggering a new political crisis.
The United Nations suspects many were killed by security forces or allied militias in night raids on pro-Ouattara neighborhoods. Hundreds of other people may have been abducted and taken to secret detention centers, U.N. officials say.
The U.N. said forces loyal to Gbagbo and his supporters attacked and burned U.N. vehicles in Ivory Coast on Thursday. They included an attack on a U.N. ambulance that wounded a doctor and patient inside.
“If there was any violence, and we find the authors of that violence, we will arrest them,” Don Mello said.
Gbagbo supporters resorted to mob violence in a 2004 dispute with French peacekeepers when his party’s ‘Young Patriots’ wing attacked French expatriates.
“Every time Gbagbo needs to show the risks of attacking him, he responds in the same way...It is an old tactic,” said Giles Yabi of the International Crisis Group thinktank.
Colville said forty nine people are unaccounted for, including 20 reported as having disappeared in the past week.
U.N. officials say they have not had access to two alleged mass graves, and said they could not find a reported third one in Issia near the central town of Daloa.
“It is alleged to be a mass grave with many bodies. That is all we know at this point,” Colville said. U.N. military observers, part of the U.N. peacekeeping force UNOCI, had been informed about it by telephone on Monday.
“UNOCI military and police officers went on mission there the following day, the 11th of January, to investigate but they were unable to find the alleged grave and were unable to confirm whether it actually exists or not,” he said.
“They made two attempts to reach these earlier alleged mass graves. Both times they were not allowed by the (Gbagbo) security forces to get to the areas. But certainly with allegations that serious, you don’t give up on it,” he said.
Asked about it, Don Mello said: “We don’t have any information on any mass grave.”
Editing by Jason Neely