Insurgents opposed to Ivorian President Laurent Gbabo have continued their advance, capturing another city in the country’s west. The heaviest fighting has been seen close to Cote d’Ivoire’s (Ivory Coast’s) border with Liberia, and tens of thousands of civilians are believed to have fled across the frontier.

Clashes in the West African nation have been between forces loyal to Gbagbo, and supporters of his rival Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara won a national election last November, but Gbagbo has refused to concede power. The conflict has escalated dramatically in the past two weeks, as Cote d’Ivoire approaches financial collapse and basic goods run low.

For the last week water and electricity supplies have been cut off to millions of Ivoirians living in the northern part of the country, which predominantly supports Ouattara. Representatives from the Compagnie Ivoirienne d’Electricite say the move was ordered by the government. The utility is owned by a Washington-based investment fund, but Cote d’Ivoire’s main power distribution centre was seized by Gbagbo’s forces in January.

The UNHCR estimates the number of refugees and internally displaced people in Cote d’Ivoire as numbering in the hundreds of thousands. At least 200,000 people have fled the capital Abidjan in recent days, which one UN official described as resembling a war zone. About 70,000 Ivoirians are believed to have crossed the border into Liberia — although this number is sure to rise as fighting near the border continues.

International condemnation of events in Cote’ d’Ivoire has been focused on a graphic video released last week of a massacre on the streets of Abidjan. Security forces loyal to Gbagbo are believed to be behind the incident, which left seven unarmed women dead.

The video, aptly entitled “Le Barbarie de Laurent Gbagbo” can be found here in full — but be warned its content is disturbing.

The first 3½ minutes of the amateur video shows what is evidently a peaceful rally, made up mainly of women. There is chanting, dancing and waving of pro-Ouattara placards. At about 3½ minutes into the video, armoured vehicles can be seen approaching and people start to disperse. Then there is a short burst of machine gun fire. The crowd — including the camera holder — panic and begin to run.

Though the video does not show who fired the shots, the armoured vehicles are marked as those of the security forces and can be clearly seen passing through the street after the shots have been fired. At 4 minutes 45 seconds the camera holder begins to film the aftermath of the brief outbreak of violence. Several female bodies lay strewn across the street. Blood and gore is clearly visible. The crowd is distraught.

The Ivorian military has denied any involvement in the massacre. Instead they have the blamed the incident on pro-Ouattara forces, claiming the killings were orchestrated to attract international sympathy.

Denunciation has certainly been forthcoming. Hillary Clinton accused Gbagbo of a “callous disregard for human life”, saying his “selfish effort to cling to power despite losing the election has elevated tensions and eroded the fundamental rights of Ivorian civilians”.

The deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has described the killing of female protesters as “appalling”. Fatou Bensouda said on Saturday that “any attack against unarmed civilians would be a crime under ICC jurisdiction and the targeting of the most vulnerable persons, such as women and children, is a crime of even higher gravity”.

Shortly after the video became public the UN announced plans to deploy an additional 2000 troops to Cote d’Ivoire. There are currently 9000 peacekeepers in the country. UN troops were originally deployed seven years ago, but numbers have been steadily increasing since the election crisis last year.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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