Early reports suggested that more than 800 people, largely from the Gbagbo-supporting Gueré tribe, were killed in a single day at the sprawling Salesian Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus mission in Duekoue, 300 miles west of Abidjan towards the Liberian border. The attackers seem to have been largely soldiers descended from Burkina Faso immigrant Muslim families loyal to Ouattara.The perpetrators of the massacre are troops loyal to the Muslim President Alassane Ouattara, rebels attempting to forcefully remove Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent President refusing to step down after allegedly losing the vote in November 2010.
Late yesterday the Roman Catholic charity Caritas said more than 1000 people were massacred in Duekoue. A Caritas spokesman said Caritas workers visited the town and reported seeing a neighbourhood filled with bodies of people who had been shot and hacked to death with machetes.
As Gateway Pundit notes, "the conflict has been brewing for years," with a country divided between the Muslim North and Christian South and a disputed election of a Muslim president against a Christian incumbent who has remained in office since 2000.
Further reading is required to grasp the true horror of the conflict:
- Human Rights Watch has been reporting and documenting this crisis since it began almost a decade ago. A 2005 report on the human rights cost of the political impasse charges Gbagbo's forces, increasingly reliant on local militias ["parallel security forces"], with extrajudicial executions, the suppression of journalists and human rights activists, and the recruitment of demobilized "child soldiers" from Liberia to fight for the government. Both Gbagbo's forces and his opposition are charged with the confiscation of money, crops, livestock and other property from civilians.
- According to a 2007 report "pro-government and rebel forces in Côte d’Ivoire have subjected thousands of women and girls to rape and other brutal sexual assaults with impunity ... throughout the five-year military-political crisis":
Human Rights Watch documented over 180 cases of sexual violence in Cote d'Ivoire, including individual and gang rape, sexual slavery, forced incest, and egregious sexual assault. [Graphic accounts of the nature of sexual crimes follow]. ... Mixed groups of Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries supporting both the Ivorian government and rebel forces in the west were guilty of especially egregious and widespread sexual abuses. However, even after the end of active hostilities, from 2004 onwards, sexual violence remained a significant problem throughout both rebel- and government-held areas.
- More recent reports point to "a four-month organized campaign of human rights abuses, which probably rise to the level of crimes against humanity" on the part of Gbagbo's forces:
Gbagbo's forces have killed, "disappeared," and raped real and perceived supporters of Ouattara, Human Rights Watch has found. Armed men supporting Ouattara have also engaged in numerous extrajudicial executions of presumed pro-Gbagbo fighters and supporters.Pro-Ouattara forces in turn are charged with reprisal killings of civilians in areas where they have taken control. For full documentation see this March 15, 2011 report: Côte d’Ivoire: Crimes Against Humanity by Gbagbo Forces - As Crisis Deepens, Grave Abuses Committed by Both Sides.
According to UN estimates, approximately 500 people, the vast majority civilians, have lost their lives as a result of the violence. In March alone, forces aligned with Gbagbo killed at least 50 civilians by firing mortars into neighborhoods known to be Ouattara strongholds. Pro-Gbagbo forces have also beaten and hacked and burned to death numerous perceived Ouattara supporters at checkpoints set up by militias.
- Religiously motivated violence is rampant. The Associated Press reported a few days ago on the targeted assassinations of imams and the harrassment and murder of "those with northern or Muslim names" for being pro-Outtara:
Ouattara supporters were beaten to death "with bricks, clubs, and sticks, or doused them with gas and burned them alive."Meanwhile, Archbishop Ambrose Madtha, the Vatican's representative to the Ivory Coast, informed Catholic News Service that Catholic priests have been targeted by armed groups and one priest has been kidnapped attempting to evacuate a seminary occupied by rebel soldiers.
Cell phone videos of the incidents have been posted on YouTube and Facebook, often accompanied by dehumanizing and anti-Muslim comments.
Fueling the fire is a relentless campaign of what the U.N. has called "lies" and "propaganda" on Gbagbo-controlled state television. The Radio-Television Ivorienne (RTI) is referred to by some foreign journalists as TV Mille Collines, in reference to the radio station that encouraged the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
In one report aired last week, the anchorman smiled as he described a dozen alleged rebels killed by pro-Gbagbo soldiers in central Abidjan as "culled like little birds." Graphic images of their bloodied bodies were interspersed with images of soldiers giving each other high five and cheering crowds.
Upon his election President Obama congratulated Ouattara on his victory in a "free and fair" election, urging Gbagbo to concede and step down -- perhaps, in light of the news of recent massacres, he is evaluating the wisdom of this recommendation.
Meanwhile, Christian Evangelicals like Pat Robertson are stumping for Gbabgo, paying scarce attention to the human rights abuses committed by government forces under his watch.
"Christian vs. Muslim"; "Muslim vs. Christian". It is doubtful whether justice would be achieved were either president to remain in power.
Over a million civilians have reportedly fled the country since the start of the conflict.