More than 800 civilians have been killed in a western Ivory Coast town where hundreds of UN peacekeepers are based, the International Federation of the Red Cross said today.
However the UN’s military spokesman said he had no information about mass killings there.
The Roman Catholic charity Caritas put the toll at more than 1,000 dead, an estimate reached by its workers who visited the town of Duekoue on Wednesday.
Spokesman Patrick Nicholson said the killings occurred over three days in a neighbourhood controlled by fighters loyal to internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara, though it was not clear who the perpetrators were.
“The massacre took place in the ’Carrefour’ quarter of town, controlled by pro-Ouattara forces, during clashes on Sunday 27 March to Tuesday 29 March,” Mr Nicholson said.
“Caritas does not know who was responsible for the killing, but says a proper investigation must take place to establish the truth.”
He said Caritas workers found the neighbourhood filled with the bodies of victims who died from gunshot wounds from small-arms fire or were hacked to death with machetes.
He said those killed were civilians who included many refugees from fighting elsewhere in the country, where rival forces were battling over a disputed November election.
Caritas’s investigation would indicate that people were killed at close quarters in a small neighbourhood of a town of just 50,000 people as pro-Ouattara fighters began a two-pronged attack which took them swiftly to Abidjan, the commercial capital and seat of power, within days.
Mr Ouattara’s government meanwhile denied that its forces were involved in any atrocities including in western Ivory Coast, without referring to the latest allegations.
Previously, the United Nations put the death toll at 492 from four months of fighting to install rival leaders following disputed November elections.
UN military spokesman Colonel Chaib Rais told the Associated Press that nearly 1,000 peacekeepers at Duekoue “are protecting the Catholic Church with more than 10,000 (refugees) inside, and we have military camps in the area”.
But he said “I have no special report of (mass killings). There was fighting two days before, on Sunday, and people were killed, but I cannot confirm those numbers.”
Mr Rais said there was fighting in and around the town on Sunday and Monday, between forces loyal to the rival leaders.
On Monday, fighters loyal to Mr Ouattara said they took Duekoue. But Mr Nicholson said interviews with survivors indicated that pro-Ouattara forces had control of Carrefour neighbourhood from Sunday.
ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said “communal violence” erupted there, apparently on Tuesday.
International and Ivorian Red Cross teams visited Duekoue yesterday and saw a “huge number of bodies,” estimated at more than 800, she said. The trips by Caritas and the ICRC were separate and independent of each other.
“We think there is a risk that this kind of event can happen again and hope that by calling today again for protection for the civilian population, we hope that such events can be avoided in the future,” Ms Krimitsas told the AP by phone from Geneva.