Seven women were killed in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan, when security forces opened fire on a rally to protest violence in their neighborhood, a local opposition spokesman said.
The women gathered at a traffic circle in Abobo at 10 a.m. to call for an end to the violence that has rocked the city, said Ahmed Coulibaly, by phone today. His opposition group RHDP supports Alassane Ouattara.
“Two armored vehicles from the army and several pick-up trucks arrived and after a little while they opened fire without any warning,” Coulibaly, who said he witnessed the incident, said by phone. “Six women were killed on the spot and one died on the way to hospital.
Fighting in Abobo broke out after an armed group that calls itself the Liberation Movement for the Population of Abobo-Anyama claimed an attack on army officers on Feb. 22. Residents say the armed group appears to have taken control of a large part of Abobo. Anyama neighbors Abobo.
More than 200,000 residents of Abobo have fled the fighting, according to the United Nations. At least 26 people were killed in the area and a total of 365 people have died across the West African nation following a disputed Nov. 28 election, the UN’s mission in the country said in a statement today.
Ouattara is the internationally recognized winner of the vote. Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who retains the loyalty of the security forces, refuses to cede power to him, alleging voter fraud in parts of the country’s north.
Residents of Abobo, who voted about 59 percent in favor of Ouattara, say they have had to burn corpses of people killed in fighting after they are left lying on the streets, with emergency aid unavailable.
“We had to burn some of the corpses because it’s a health risk to have them in the neighborhood,” said resident Idrissa Kone, by phone today. “We are cut off from electricity and drinking water and there is no medical help in this area.”
Ivory Coast is “on the verge of a new civil war,” according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The country was left split between a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north following an earlier civil conflict in 2002-3.
“The most likely scenario is an armed conflict involving massive violence against civilians that could provoke unilateral military intervention by neighbors,” said Gilles Yabi, the group’s West Africa Project Director, in an e-mailed statement today.
Yabi said the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States must retake a leading role in negotiations to settle the impasse. In December, Ecowas said “legitimate force” may be used to oust Gbagbo if he failed to step down.
A month later, the African Union’s Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said using force would be considered only as a “last resort.” The continental body set up a panel of five African presidents tasked with mediating in the conflict. Their mandate was extended through this month, the union said Feb. 28.