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Ivory Coast Rebels Accused of Executions

February 27, 2003

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Ivory Coast rebels summarily executed 60 prisoners _ paramilitary police and their children _ last year as they cowered in their cells, Amnesty International said Thursday.

Rebel officials denied the report, which the rights group said was based on the statements of 12 adults who survived the massacre.

Amnesty said the massacre occurred in the central city of Bouake on Oct. 6 during an attack by troops loyal to the government.

The loyalists were trying to regain control several weeks after the rebels seized the city from government forces, including gendarmes, the country’s paramilitary police.

The insurgents responded to the government offensive by surrounding the barracks where gendarmes and some family members were holed up, taking 60 officers prisoner along with 50 of their sons, the group said.

That night, rebel fighters fired machine guns indiscriminately into the common cell holding the prisoners, returning several times to unleash more gunfire, Amnesty said.

It said the dead included 52 officers and eight of their children, who were either under 18 or no more than a few years older. Some of the survivors lay wounded among the corpses for days before a rebel commander ordered their lives spared, Amnesty said.

The rebels, who call themselves the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, later freed some survivors in exchange for ``substantial ransoms.″ But dozens of others remain unaccounted for, it said.

Rebels reached by telephone in Bouake rejected the allegations.

``We reject the report by Amnesty International,″ said rebel spokesman Antoine Beugre. ``All dead (paramilitary officers) in Bouake were killed during combat. And there have been no children victims from combat,″ he said.

In Paris, lawyers representing Ivory Coast’s government said Thursday they would ask the U.N. Security Council to file unspecified atrocities charges in the International Criminal Court. Ivory Coast has not signed the treaty establishing the court, so the lawyers said it will ask the Security Council to file the suit on its behalf.

``The Republic of Ivory Coast is asking that an impartial and complete investigation be carried out, and that proceedings are brought against the authors of every human rights violation committed throughout the nation,″ Eric Sossah, a government lawyer, told reporters.

Sossah did not elaborate on the government’s atrocity allegations, but said they were not prompted by the Amnesty report.

The rebellion arose out of a failed Sept. 19 coup. Rebels captured most of northern Ivory Coast and parts of the west before agreeing to a cease-fire.

A number of mass graves have been found in the former French colony since fighting broke out; rebels and government accuse each other of the atrocities.

Rebels accuse President Laurent Gbagbo of fomenting ethnic hatred in the country, and have accused the government of organizing death squads to kill prominent sympathizers with the rebel cause. U.N. investigators have also said the squads appear to have links to the government.

Last month the two sides agreed to a French-brokered peace deal calling for a coalition government but there is disagreement over which posts the rebels would get.

Gbagbo has insisted he reserves the final say over all positions in the new government.

The conflict has killed more than 1,000 people, displaced at least a million and paralyzed the economy of Ivory Coast, a country that has been unstable for the last few years but was once a model for peace on the African continent.

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