January 2, 2011 / 12:55 AM / 9 years ago

U.N. peacekeepers focus on reported Ivory Coast abuses

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast are doing everything possible to gain access to areas of the country where human rights abuses are alleged to have occurred, the United Nations said on Saturday.

The world’s top cocoa producer was plunged into crisis after Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down as president after a disputed election in November, triggering violence in a nation still divided after a 2002-03 civil war.

Ivory Coast’s electoral commission, world leaders and the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly have recognized challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner.

“The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) told President Ouattara that he was alarmed by the reports of egregious human rights violations,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement, referring to a telephone conversation between Ban and Ouattara on Saturday.

“He (Ban) said UNOCI had been instructed to do everything possible to gain access to the affected areas both for prevention and to investigate and record the violations so that those responsible will be held accountable,” Nesirky said.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, known as UNOCI, said last month that pro-Gbagbo forces were blocking access to what could be a mass grave near Abidjan. U.N. diplomats told Reuters UNOCI was still barred from the site.

Ouattara reiterated in his call with Ban that he wanted “an early International Criminal Court investigation as a credible signal for accountability.”

Last week Ouattara asked The Hague-based court to send a mission to the West African nation to investigate reports of post-election violence committed by pro-Gbagbo forces.

The United Nations has put the death toll from the violence at more than 170. It has also expressed concern that the homes of political opponents of Gbagbo in the main city of Abidjan have been marked to identify their ethnicity, indicating that the country could be headed for ethnic violence.

Nesirky said that Ban also “reaffirmed to President Ouattara today the U.N.’s principled and unwavering position on upholding the election outcome based on the will of the people of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).”

Ban added that “the international community remained committed to work together for a peaceful and durable end to the stalemate,” Nesirky said.

Editing by Paul Simao

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