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UN mission in Côte d'Ivoire confirms existence of mass graves

UN mission in Côte d'Ivoire confirms existence of mass graves

A human rights team sent to investigate gross violations during clashes between rival groups of the main national opposition party in northern Côte d'Ivoire has found three mass graves containing at least 99 bodies, the peacekeeping United Nations Operation in the West African country (ONUCI) said today.

The team identified the bodies in the Korhogo area as belonging to opposing groups within the Forces Nouvelles, adding, "Some of these people were killed by bullets. According to testimony that agreed and was credible, others died by asphyxiation."

The people arrested in the aftermath of these events are still in custody and the team voiced concern about their well-being, ONUCI said.

The team, guarded by troops from ONUCI with support from the French peacekeeping force known as Licorne, informed the civil and military opposition Forces Nouvelles leadership, as well as religious and traditional authorities, of its work from 1 to 12 July and from 22 to 26 July.

At a summit meeting convened by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Ghanaian President John Kufuor, head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in Ghana's capital last week, Côte d'Ivoire leaders agreed to honour the 2003 Linas-Marcoussis peace pact laying out the framework for new laws on such sticking-points as establishing nationality and dividing powers within the government of national reconciliation.

Recognizing the need to respect human rights and the rule of law, the parties also agreed to cooperate fully with the International Commission of Inquiry looking into abuses committed in Côte d'Ivoire since the beginning of the crisis on 19 September 2002.

Mr. Annan told reporters today at UN Headquarters in New York that the officials who willingly signed the new accord must act responsibly. "The (Ivorian) people are tired and want to get on with their lives, and this places greater responsibilities on the leaders to really bear in mind the needs of the people and the needs of the nation," he said in response to a press question.

The leaders, he added, must "put aside their own individual desires and work for the nation and the people."