The UN says peacekeepers will press on with efforts to investigate alleged killings in Ivory Coast. Regional leaders still hope to persuade the country’s incumbent leader to step down in favor of a political rival.
UN forces have been instructed to push for answers
The United Nations said Sunday it will do all it can to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Ivory Coast as African leaders try to persuade the country's incumbent president to stand down.
Pressure is mounting on Ivory Coast's defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to leave office in favor of the internationally recognized winner of November elections, Alassane Ouattara.
Gbagbo was sworn into office in December despite international condemnation
The UN claims that least 179 people have died in post-election violence but says that attacks on its personnel have hampered efforts to investigate further.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed United Nations support for Ouattara by telephone over the weekend, vowing that the UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast UNOCI would do all that it could to investigate reported abuses. Part of the UNOCI mission is also to protect Outarra from threats of violence.
"The Secretary-General told President Ouattara that he was alarmed by the reports of egregious human rights violations," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
"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."
A New Year deadline issued by Ouattara for Gbagbo to stand down passed unheeded.
Reports of mass graves
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Saturday that reports had been received of "at least two mass graves." She warned that Gbagbo could face prosecution over human rights violations.
UN human rights experts say there is credible evidence that "enforced or involuntary disappearances, arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial or arbitrary executions and sexual violence had occurred and may still be occurring" in Ivory Coast.
The UNOCI said last month that forces acting for Gbagbo were preventing it from looking at a mass grave near Abidjan. Gbagbo has accused the mission of opening fire on civilians and has demanded that it leave.
Ban spoke to Outarra by telephone at the weekend
Ouattara has also called on the International Criminal Court in The Hague to send a mission to investigate reported post-election violence by pro-Gbagbo supporters.
Gbagbo has said he will reject a demand by African leaders on Monday that he cede power or face armed intervention.
Four leaders representing West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union were due to meet Gbagbo in a bid to make him relinquish the presidency or face possible military consequences.
The European Union and United States have imposed a travel ban on Gbagbo and his associates. Meanwhile, the World Bank and the regional West African central bank have frozen the leader's finances.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner