New mass graves found in Ivory Coast

Updated 07 November 2012
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New mass graves found in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast: Up to 10 new mass graves have been discovered near the site of a July attack on a camp for displaced people, officials said Tuesday, amid allegations that initial casualty totals were downplayed to mask killings carried out by the national army.
Rights groups claim summary executions were carried out by the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, known by its French acronym of FRCI. Last month, officials found six bodies in a well close to the former campsite in the western town of Duekoue.
Government, army and UN officials toured 10 more graves in the same area on Saturday, said Paul Mondouho, vice-mayor of Duekoue. He said the graves had first been identified by civilians, and that officials did not know the number of bodies they contained because they had not yet been properly exhumed.
“People were suspecting the presence of bodies in these graves because of the smell coming out of them and because of the shoes we saw nearby,” Mondouho said.
Prosecutor Noel Dje Enrike Yahau, who is based in the commercial capital of Abidjan, confirmed that multiple new graves had been discovered but could not provide details. UN officials and the local prosecutor in charge of investigating the suspected killings could not be reached Tuesday.
UN spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg confirmed that UN forces helped Ivorian authorities secure a perimeter around 10 wells “similar to the one in which six bodies were found,” and that “some of those wells are suspected mass graves.”
She stressed that Ivorian authorities were leading the investigation but that the UN was able to provide assistance.
Army spokesmen could not be reached Tuesday. The Justice Ministry has previously vowed to investigate the discovery of the initial grave.
On the morning of July 20, a mob descended on the UN-guarded Nahibly camp, which housed 4,500 people displaced by violence in Ivory Coast, burning most of the camp to the ground. Officials said at the time that six people were killed.
The attack was prompted by the shooting deaths of four men and one woman on the night of July 19, according to local officials and residents. In response a mob of some 300 people overran the camp on the morning of July 20 after the perpetrators of the shootings reportedly fled there.
The victims in the July 19 attack lived in a district dominated by the Malinke ethnic group, which largely supported President Alassane Ouattara in the disputed November 2010 election. The camp primarily housed members of the Guere ethnic group, which largely supported former President Laurent Gbagbo.
Gbagbo’s refusal to cede office despite losing the election to Ouattara sparked months of violence that claimed at least 3,000 lives.
Albert Koenders, the top UN envoy to Ivory Coast, said one week after the attack that UN security forces had been inside and outside the camp at the time but that no Ivorian security forces were present. He said the UN forces decided not to fire at a large group of people that were attacking the camp in order to avoid “a massacre.”
Several witnesses have said soldiers and traditional hunters, known as dozos, participated in the attack on the camp. Both military and dozo leaders have denied the claims, saying they had tried to protect the camp.
In a statement released Friday, the International Federation for Human Rights, known by its French acronym of FIDH, said it had information — including the preliminary results of autopsies — confirming that the six bodies found in October were men who had been summarily executed by the army.
“The disappearance of dozens of displaced persons after the attack, as well as confirmation of cases of summary and extra-judicial executions, suggest a much higher victim rate than the official figures report,” said the organization, which counts Ivorian civil society groups among its members.
Duekoue was one of the hardest-hit towns during the post-election violence. The UN has established that at least 505 people were killed in and around the town, including during a notorious March 2011 massacre that claimed hundreds of lives and was allegedly carried out by fighters loyal to Ouattara.
Duekoue residents belonging to ethnic groups that supported Gbagbo have long complained about abuses carried out by the FRCI, with some pointing to the direct involvement of the local commander, Kone Daouda. FIDH said in its statement that Daouda had been transferred following the discovery of the grave in October, and called for him to be interrogated over the matter.
The group also said two FRCI members were being “actively sought” after failing to return to their barracks on Oct. 16, noting that they are believed to have fled to neighboring Burkina Faso.


North's Kim and South's Moon shake hands over demarcation line: TV

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, crosses the border into South Korea, along with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for their historic face-to-face talks, in Panmunjom. (Korea Broadcasting System via AP)
Updated 15 min 13 sec ago
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North's Kim and South's Moon shake hands over demarcation line: TV

GOYANG, South Korea: With a single step over a weathered, cracked slab of concrete, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made history Friday by crossing over the world’s most heavily armed border to greet his rival, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, for talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Kim then invited Moon to cross briefly north with him before they returned to the southern side.
Those small steps must be seen in the context of the last year — when the United States, its ally South Korea and the North seemed at times to be on the verge of nuclear war as the North unleashed a torrent of weapons tests — but also in light of the long, destructive history of the rival Koreas, who fought one of the 20th century’s bloodiest conflicts and even today occupy a divided peninsula that’s still technically in a state of war.
It was all smiles Friday as Moon grasped Kim’s hand and led him along an blindingly red carpet into South Korean territory, where school children placed flowers around their necks and an honor guard stood at attention for inspection.
Beyond the surface, however, it’s still not clear whether the leaders can make any progress in closed-door talks on the nuclear issue, which has bedeviled US and South Korean officials for decades. North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests last year likely put it on the threshold of becoming a legitimate nuclear power. North Korea claims it has already risen to that level.
Kim’s news agency said that the leader would “open-heartedly” discuss with Moon “all the issues arising in improving inter-Korean relations and achieving peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean peninsula” in a “historic” summit. It’s the first time one of the ruling Kim leaders has crossed over to the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone since the Korean War ended in 1953.
The greeting of the two leaders was planned to the last detail. Thousands of journalists were kept in a huge conference center well away from the summit, except for a small group of tightly-controlled pool reporters at the border. Moon stood near the Koreas’ dividing line, moving forward the moment he glimpsed Kim appearing in front of a building on the northern side. They shook hands with the border line between them. Moon then invited Kim to cross into the South; Kim invited Moon into the North, and they then took a ceremonial photo facing the North and then another photo facing the South.
Two fifth-grade students from the Daesongdong Elementary School, the only South Korean school within the DMZ, greeted the leaders and gave them flowers. Kim and Moon then saluted an honor guard and military band, and Moon introduced Kim to South Korean government officials. Kim returned the favor with the North Korean officials accompanying him. They were to take a photo inside the Peace House, where the summit was to take place, in front of a painting of South Korea’s Bukhan Mountain, which towers over the South Korean Blue House presidential mansion.
Nuclear weapons will top the agenda, and Friday’s summit will be the clearest sign yet of whether it’s possible to peacefully negotiate those weapons away from a country that has spent decades doggedly building its bombs despite crippling sanctions and near-constant international opprobrium.
Expectations are generally low, given that past so-called breakthroughs on North Korea’s weapons have collapsed amid acrimonious charges of cheating and bad faith. Skeptics of engagement have long said that the North often turns to interminable rounds of diplomacy meant to ease the pain of sanctions — giving it time to perfect its weapons and win aid for unfulfilled nuclear promises.
Advocates of engagement say the only way to get a deal is to do what the Koreas will try Friday: Sit down and see what’s possible.
Moon, a liberal whose election last year ended a decade of conservative rule in Seoul, will be looking to make some headway on the North’s nuclear program in advance of a planned summit in several weeks between Kim and US President Donald Trump.
Kim, the third member of his family to rule his nation with absolute power, is eager, both in this meeting and in the Trump talks, to talk about the nearly 30,000 heavily armed US troops stationed in South Korea and the lack of a formal peace treaty ending the Korea War — two factors, the North says, that make nuclear weapons necessary.
North Korea may also be looking to use whatever happens in the talks with Moon to set up the Trump summit, which it may see as a way to legitimize its declared status as a nuclear power.
One possible outcome Friday, aside from a rise in general goodwill between the countries, could be a proposal for a North Korean freeze of its weapons ahead of later denuclearization.
Seoul and Washington will be pushing for any freeze to be accompanied by rigorous and unfettered outside inspections of the North’s nuclear facilities, since past deals have crumbled because of North Korea’s unwillingness to open up to snooping foreigners.
South Korea, in announcing Thursday some details of the leaders’ meeting, acknowledged that the most difficult sticking point between the Koreas has been North Korea’s level of denuclearization commitment. Kim has reportedly said that he wouldn’t need nuclear weapons if his government’s security could be guaranteed and external threats were removed.
Whatever the Koreas announce Friday, the spectacle of Kim being feted on South Korean soil will be something to behold.
Kim and Moon will be enjoying each other’s company in the jointly controlled village of Panmunjom near the spot where a defecting North Korean soldier recently fled south in a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades.