UN: At least 173 killed in Ivory Coast during violence

Disputed presidential election cause of upheaval; UN official details hundreds of arrests, detentions in West African country.

UN forces patrol in Ivory Coast (photo credit: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
UN forces patrol in Ivory Coast
(photo credit: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — The United Nations warned Thursday that at least 173 people have died in violence over the disputed presidential election, and said it had not even been able to investigate all the reports that have fueled concerns about a return to civil war.
At a special session on Ivory Coast in Geneva, the UN deputy human rights commissioner detailed hundreds of arrests and detentions, and dozens of cases of torture and mistreatment in the West African country.
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"Unfortunately it has been impossible to investigate all the allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of mass graves, due to restrictions on movement by UN personnel," Kyung-wha Kang told diplomats. "Indeed, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General was stopped at gunpoint, as he sought to verify such allegations."
She also expressed concern about how state media is being controlled by political allies of Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to leave the presidency despite international calls for his ouster after the Nov. 28 runoff vote.
"Particularly alarming is the use of the national Radio and Television Ivoirienne and some private newspapers to incite hatred and violence among the population and to disseminate false and inflammatory information against the United Nations," she said.
David Kennedy, spokesman for the US mission to the UN in Geneva, said the United States is "deeply concerned by the extent of the abuses being perpetrated" in Ivory Coast.
The UN and other world leaders recognize Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the presidential election. His prime minister has urged the UN, European Union, African Union and others to consider intervening to push incumbent Gbagbo out of the presidency.
The United States said Wednesday it is discussing ways to help quell the postelection violence in Ivory Coast with other countries.
"We are in discussions with other regional countries to see if there are ways in which we can reinforce the UN peacekeeping force," spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. "It could be that that kind of reinforcement could be another way to send a clear message to President Gbagbo."
He declined to name the countries that have been contacted but noted that Nigeria is a major troop contributor to West African peacekeeping forces and that France has interests in Ivory Coast, a former French colony where at least 13,000 French citizens reside.
A Nigerian military spokesman said Thursday that military intervention into another country could only be decided by the president, and a presidential spokesman could not be reached for comment. The regional bloc ECOWAS is due to hold a meeting on the crisis late Friday.
Still, there has been little international interest so far in a military intervention in Ivory Coast, which suffered a 2002-2003 civil war. The United States and the EU are imposing sanctions targeting Gbagbo, his wife and political allies. Hundreds of UN peacekeepers have been protecting the hotel where Ouattara is based.
Over the weekend, Gbagbo ordered all UN peacekeepers out of the country immediately in an escalation of tensions. The UN considers Ouattara president and is staying put, raising fears that UN personnel and other foreigners could be targeted in violence as tensions mount.