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UN assessment team arrives in Côte d'Ivoire aiming to shore up peace agreement

UN assessment team arrives in Côte d'Ivoire aiming to shore up peace agreement

A diverse team of experts dispatched to Côte d'Ivoire by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in the war-torn country today to begin its work amid mounting international concern that a recent peace agreement has failed to quell hostilities or ease ethnic tensions.

The 13-member, multi-disciplinary team of UN technical experts aims to gather the necessary information on the ground, which would allow the Secretary-General to prepare recommendations to the Security Council on any possible role the UN could play in support of the implementation of the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement.

The French-brokered accord, signed and adopted in Paris late last month, calls upon the Ivoirian Government, rebels and political opposition to share power in a transitional government until elections in 2005. A groundswell of resistance sparked a series of violent protests and demonstrations that rocked Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's main city. Increased ethnic tensions and tribal clashes have now swept the whole of West Africa, generating ever-increasing flights of refuges and internally displaced persons.

The current mission, which includes high-ranking political, humanitarian, human rights and security officials, is being led by Assistant Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi, and is scheduled to remain in Côte d'Ivoire until 5 March.

Meanwhile, the host of humanitarian agencies struggling to stay a step ahead of the sporadic violence in Côte d'Ivoire and deepening regional crisis, report that continuing instability has limited their access to people in need, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The western area of Côte d'Ivoire along the border with Liberia remains highly unstable. OCHA said reports of atrocities and lawlessness in the west and large numbers of internally displaced persons fleeing violence are extremely worrying. Non-governmental organizations working in the region report that military confrontations, rape and pillaging had driven more than 85,000 people from their homes. They describe "deplorable" hygiene and shelter conditions in already overpopulated villages along the fringes of the combat zone, as more and more people are forced to seek refuge there.

Throughout all this, the UN refugee agency is continuing voluntary repatriation of extremely vulnerable Liberian refugees from the town of Tabou in southwestern Côte d'Ivoire. As of 19 February, 2,200 had been repatriated.