Massacre Uncovered In Western Ivory Coast

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that 800 bodies have been found in the western Ivory Coast town of Duekoue. Host Guy Raz talks with the BBC's John James about how the massacre fits into the post-election tension and fighting in the country.

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKENDS ON ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

A lot of news to cover this hour from Afghanistan to Abidjan and in between. In Libya, we've been hearing a lot about the rebels. But who are they? Who leads them, and how are they organized? We'll find out in a moment. Also, an update from Afghanistan on the killings and protests that have broken out over the burning of a Quran in Florida.

But first, to the West African country of Ivory Coast. Since last November's presidential election there, the country has been in turmoil. Two different men claimed to have won. The incumbent, President Laurent Gbagbo, refuses to step down even though the U.N. has now recognized his rival, Alassane Ouattara, as the winner.

And at this hour, fighting is raging in parts of Abidjan between supporters loyal to Ouattara and those who back Gbagbo. Then, this story that crossed today. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it uncovered a massacre in the western Ivorian town of Duekoue. At least 800 bodies have been found. And it's not yet clear who is responsible.

Joining me from central Ivory Coast in the town of Bouake is BBC reporter John James.

And, John, first, can you update us on the situation in Abidjan?

Mr. JOHN JAMES (Reporter, BBC News): Everyone I'm speaking today is really locked down in their homes and (unintelligible) dying from mortars, from heavy cannon fire. You know, people are trapped in their homes. Some areas have lost electricity, some areas have lost water. Most people are running out of food, and at the same time, you got this battle raging and people aren't sure where this is heading.

RAZ: Is it clear whether the opposition loyal to Alassane Ouattara is gaining ground?

Mr. JAMES: I mean, they certainly took control of most of the city very quickly. But they are actually meeting some resistance from those soldiers who are still loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, particularly the Republican Guard, and they seem to be able to defend the central barracks in Abidjan and the presidential palace and the presidential residence as well. But most of the army are either defecting or just laying down their weapons and staying home.

Laurent Gbagbo can't count on too much anymore from the official forces. He has youth movements and supporters that have been harmed as well. But, yeah, outside of those two forces, you can just very much see (unintelligible) backed into a corner here and, you know, it's difficult for him now coming back from the (unintelligible) president.

RAZ: John James, can you tell me what you have learned about that other story we're following in Ivory Coast, the alleged massacre that the Red Cross uncovered in the town of Duekoue?

Mr. JAMES: I mean, this is a town in the southwest, which was taken by the pro-Ouattara forces on Monday and Tuesday. The Red Cross say there was a massacre and they found 800 bodies there, which just happened in the last week. And investigations are going to have to be made into actually what happened.

And clearly, it shows some (unintelligible), the tension that's being sparked by the lack of the army, the police and this general disorder.

RAZ: But it appears, even though it's not confirmed that some of those killings were probably carried out by supporters of the opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

Mr. JAMES: That may well be the case. But otherwise, the Red Cross weren't posing anything as to who was responsible at this stage. But certainly, I think, both sides probably have some blood on their hands, and it's all because of this political crisis at the very top.

RAZ: That's John James. He's a reporter for the BBC, speaking to me from the Ivory Coast.

John, thank you.

Mr. JAMES: Thank you.

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