- 'Hate media' are still operating in Côte d'Ivoire, probably with the support of the government of President Laurent Gbagbo. Until now, French citizens were the main target of xenophobic attacks, but after their evacuation, 'hate media' are again turning against Muslims, northerners and West African immigrants.
As the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire again is getting out of control, there are strong efforts to fuel war and violence among Ivorians. While President Gbagbo is speaking about peace in his meetings with the UN and foreign negotiators, broadcasters close to his ruling party are consciously spreading hatred against foreigners and Muslims.
This has repeatedly made the international community to call for end to violence and 'hate media' in Côte d'Ivoire, but also to increasingly distrust the government of Mr Gbagbo. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today again issued a call to all parties in the country to end violence and do everything possible to prevent "the devastating resurgence of ethnic conflict."
While the situation on the ground was reported to have improved somewhat, Mr Annan condemned the use of hate media "which is fuelling the tensions, xenophobia and inciting violent acts," and reminded "all concerned that they may be held accountable for their acts, in conformity with international criminal, human rights and humanitarian law."
The UN peacekeeping operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) on Tuesday reported an increase in the number and abusive nature of hate messages on radio and television, which in one instance broadcast the number of a van said to be driven by French nationals, target of attacks since French troops destroyed the government air force in a reprisal attack on Saturday.
Following attacks on French citizens and other European, American and North African nationals, UN peacekeepers yesterday started a large-scale evacuation of foreigner from Côte d'Ivoire. The UN has escorted up to 400 non-UN persons from three sites prior to evacuation out of the country. They also escorted some 150 Canadians, 40 Spaniards and a number of Moroccans to the airport. These groups are being flown out by the respective countries.
As most Western civilians have been assisted in fleeing the country, hate attacks are now increasingly concentrated against the traditional "enemies" of President Gbagbo's ruling party: Northerners, Muslims and citizens from West African neighbour countries. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, 3000 Ivorians already have fled the country, entering Liberia. "Ivorians are fleeing their homes because they are scared," said the UNHCR leader yesterday.
Human rights groups are strongly concerned about the growing spread of hate and xenophobia in Côte d'Ivoire, which inevitably will lead to new harassment of innocent civilians. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch today said the Ivorian government must "cease radio or television broadcasts intended to incite violence against perceived government opponents."
- Until they were evacuated, French citizens bore the brunt of the militias' xenophobic attacks, said Peter Takirambudde of Human Rights Watch. "Now we are concerned the militias will turn their rage on their more familiar targets - Muslims, northerners and West African immigrants. Given the history of militia abuses during Côte d'Ivoire's political crisis, the UN must anticipate such attacks and be ready to respond,# he added.
Over the last few days, local Ivorian human rights activists in hiding told the US group about numerous cases of northern civilians and opposition supporters whose houses and business in Abidjan had been ransacked or burned by pro-government militias. On Tuesday, pro-government militias attacked northerners and West African immigrants in the western town of Gagnoa, killing at least five of them.
Speaking on state radio and television, government officials and militia leaders have disseminated continual messages inciting the militias to attack French civilians after French forces destroyed Ivorian aircraft. These messages recently spread to private radio stations.
- The UN peacekeepers must be also prepared to silence broadcasts that incite or provide directions for violence, said Mr Takirambudde. Human Rights Watch today demanded that the UN peacekeepers take on their responsibility "to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence."
Both within Abidjan and the rural areas, and most urgently in the western cacao-growing region, "UN peacekeepers should conduct frequent patrols and make their presence felt in areas heavily populated by vulnerable groups," the group said.
In recent years, Northerners, Muslims and West African immigrants have come under attack from pro-government militias, which accuse them of supporting the northern-based rebellion. Since 2000, when President Gbagbo took over in flawed elections during which some 200 opposition supporters were killed, the pro-government militias and state security forces have largely ceased to work for the protection of the general population.
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