U.N. Condemns Mortar Attack On Ivory Coast Market

Families flee fighting in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan on Friday, a day after an attack that marked one of the bloodiest days since the country's disputed presidential election in November 2010. i i

Families flee fighting in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan on Friday, a day after an attack that marked one of the bloodiest days since the country's disputed presidential election in November 2010. Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images
Families flee fighting in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan on Friday, a day after an attack that marked one of the bloodiest days since the country's disputed presidential election in November 2010.

Families flee fighting in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan on Friday, a day after an attack that marked one of the bloodiest days since the country's disputed presidential election in November 2010.

Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations condemned a mortar attack on a market that killed at least 25 people in Ivory Coast, saying Friday that it may constitute a crime against humanity.

Forces loyal to former leader Laurent Gbagbo fired at least six 81-mm mortar shells from a military base in the direction of a crowded market in a neighborhood in Abidjan, the U.N. said in a statement.

The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast said 100 people were killed or wounded by the mortar shells that fell without warning on the market near the mayor's office in Abobo, a district held by fighters loyal to the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara.

At one market stall, an elderly woman lost both her legs, a witness said.

One resident, Magoman Kone, said she fled her market stall when policemen drove by the marketplace firing their machine guns into the air. She came back when the firing stopped to gather her wares and then the mortar shells started falling.

"There was no warning," said Kone, 55, holding up the casing from a 50-caliber machine-gun bullet, as thick as a spent toilet-paper roll. "Just boom, boom, boom."

On Friday, wounded people lined up outside a local hospital. Foreign health workers refused to say how many patients they had seen.

Earlier in the day, pro-Ouattara fighters ambushed a police station in the Adjame district of Abidjan, though it was unclear whether anyone was killed.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said that investigators from her office visited Abobo and found mortar shells in a number of houses and in the local market.

"Shelling impacts were visible throughout the market and at least three houses were destroyed. My mission collected photographic evidence of the damage caused as well as physical evidence of shell remains. Between 20 and 30 persons were killed and between 40 and 60 others were wounded," she told reporters during a stop in Dakar, Senegal.

"It's a serious situation, and I think it does amount to, it may well amount to, crimes against humanity," Pillay said.

Gbagbo's spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, called the U.N. accusations the latest twist in an international plot against him. Gbagbo has resisted international pressure to relinquish power to Ouattara, who is widely recognized as president-elect.

Abidjan, Ivory Coast's biggest city, has for weeks seen daily battles that have left hundreds dead. Fighting was initially confined to pro-Ouattara neighborhoods but has now spread across the city, breaking out in different locations each day.

The Ivory Coast violence has drawn the interest of The Hague-based International Criminal Court, which said it is monitoring events closely.

Ouattara's government called the market attack "unimaginable" in a statement released late Thursday. They said more than 40 people died, though this could not be independently verified.

Rights group Amnesty International condemned the market strike.

"To launch an attack of this kind that kills and injures a large number of people who are not posing an immediate threat is completely unacceptable," Veronique Aubert, the group's Africa deputy director, said Friday.

The attack also drew condemnation from the British government.

"I utterly condemn the indiscriminate killing of more than 25 people in Abobo yesterday by forces loyal to former President Gbagbo," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "The launching of mortars into a market place and bus station is abhorrent and the U.N. should conduct a full investigation."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the U.N. Security Council to "take further measures with regard to the Ivorian individuals who are instigating, orchestrating and committing the violence," spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported from Abidjan for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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