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Hundreds died in Togolese unrest, UN says

Hundreds died in Togolese unrest, UN says

About 400 to 500 people were slain and thousands were wounded in Togo after the sudden death of its long-time president in February and disputed presidential elections in April, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says in a strong critique of human rights violations by both the Government and the opposition in the West African country.

In addition, the large number of disappeared and the extensive use of torture and other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment has been accompanied by the systematic and organized destruction of goods and property, OHCHR says in a report from its investigative team.

The team, headed by High Commissioner Louise Arbour's Special Envoy, Doudou Diène, visited the country from 13 to 24 June to speak to a wide range of people in Togo, including the son of the late President Gnassingbé Eyadéma, new President Faure Gnassingbé, and it also interviewed Togolese refugees in Benin and Ghana.

Blaming civilian police, military police and the various branches of the armed forces in the country which saw one of post-colonial Africa's earliest coup and presidential assassinations in 1963, the report says: "The principal responsibility for the political violence and violations of human rights (lay with) the whole of the repressive state security forces," built up during the nearly four-decade dictatorship of Mr. Eyadéma.

These forces coordinated with partisans in the ruling, northern-based party, Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), the report says, excoriating the impunity with which the RPT conducted its strategy of using ethnic and clan relationships to orchestrate repression in a country of more than three dozen ethnic groups.

Until 1991, the RPT was the only political party allowed, it says.

The OHCHR mission learned that an estimated 2,500 soldiers, dressed in civilian clothes and armed with knives, machetes and clubs, had helped militants of the ruling party to suppress opposition rallies.

The dynamic of the ethnic and xenophobic polarization in Togolese society, leading to durable ethnic and clan management of power, has engendered a tendency to read ethnicity into political cleavages, the report says.

A dialogue has started with the recent meeting, under the auspices of the Saint Egidio community in Rome, between President Gnassingbé and major opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio, followed by a meeting in the Togolese capital with the other opposition leaders, it says.

Meanwhile, in addition to forming a credible Government of National Unity, the Togolese military must be made apolitical, "representative of the Togolese society in its cultural and ethnic diversity and respectful of human rights," the report says.