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SENIOR UN OFFICIAL CONCERNED AT ALLEGED VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN IN CÔTE D’IVOIRE

By United Nations
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25 January - A senior United Nations official today voiced concern over continuing allegations of violence in Côte d'Ivoire, including the killing, maiming and abduction of children, since the post-election crisis erupted.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, also voiced concern about the lack of access, which makes these allegations extremely difficult to verify.

“Additionally, girls and boys, who make up the bulk of refugees fleeing to Liberia, are tremendously vulnerable,” she added in a statement.

The West African nation has been beset by political tension and violence following outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to step down despite the internationally recognized electoral victory of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara.

Ms. Coomaraswamy noted that Côte d'Ivoire had in recent years made significant progress in the protection of children, and that five parties in the country signed agreements with the UN committing not to recruit and use children.

“I call on all parties to uphold their commitments not to recruit and use children and ensure that none of the other grave violations against children occur, namely killing and maiming; sexual violence; denial of humanitarian access; abduction; and attacks on schools and hospitals.”

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York that he is collecting information as part of a “preliminary examination” into whether crimes committed in Côte d'Ivoire fall under the jurisdiction of the Court, which was set up to try people accused of the most serious international offences, such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“I'm working to collect information to see if I have to request authorization to the judges to initiate an investigation,” said Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Last week the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, told reporters that he remains gravely concerned about the possibility of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Côte d'Ivoire. He also called for urgent steps to avert the risk of genocide and ensure the protection of all those at risk of mass atrocities.

Mr. Deng had noted that the elements that could lead to genocide such as identity-related conflicts over national, racial and religious affiliation are present in Côte d'Ivoire, which is home to mainly Muslim northerners and mainly Christian southerners as well as numerous ethnicities.

Also today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that it has completed the initial stage of setting up a camp in eastern Liberia to shelter people fleeing violence and political uncertainty in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire, saying the construction of the settlement's main reception centre is under way.

The 80-hectare camp being built in an area called Bahn will have 14 shelters with the capacity to hold 500 refugees, according to Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR's spokesperson in Geneva.

Facilities will include latrines, showers, security posts, registration and distribution sites, kitchens, a canteen, a warehouse, a medical screening clinic, water wells and offices. The agency has contracted local builders to help construct the facilities in the camp.

Mr. Mahecic said that UNHCR estimates that there are now more than 30,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia. Many of them have crossed into Liberia through the forests avoiding busy roads and official border crossings.

The refugees are being hosted in more than 20 villages scattered around the town of Saclepea in eastern Liberia's Nimba County. Liberian hosts have been sharing their homes and social amenities, including schools and health centres with the refugees. Many Liberians were themselves refugees in Côte d'Ivoire during their country's civil wars in the 1990s.

UNHCR has also started distributions of food and relief items to the refugees in the host communities, but deliveries are being hindered by the rainfall which has made already bad roads impassable.