Religious Leaders Troubled by Violence, Hate in Ivory Coast

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Elders group of global leaders have condemned the violence and “grave violations of human rights” in the Ivory Coast.

The leaders said they were “deeply saddened” by the “tragic loss of life” in fierce fighting triggered by incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, winner of last November's presidential election and Ivory Coast’s internationally recognized president.

Despite being encircled in the presidential palace in Abidjan by forces loyal to Ouattara, Gbagbo has denied surrendering.

The Elders said Gbagbo must bear “primary responsibility” for the violence since November. They added that both Gbagbo and Ouattara must bear responsibility for the actions of forces under their control.

“They must demand an immediate end to the attacks on civilians and U.N. personnel,” the leaders said.

Ouattara has denied the involvement of his forces in a massacre of hundreds of civilians in the town of Duekoue.

Archbishop Tutu urged Ouattara to commit publicly to a process of accountability.

“His actions and words in the coming days are critical to the future of the Ivory Coast,” he said. “The people need reconciliation, not retaliation. They need a leader who can bring peace and put the country back on the path to prosperity.

“He can do this by demonstrating that he will govern for all Ivorians, and is worthy of the trust placed in him through the elections.”

Fellow Elder and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged an investigation into the atrocities and human rights abuses in the West African country.

“Those who perpetrated these terrible crimes, in Duekoue and elsewhere, must be held accountable," Annan said. “There is only one Ivory Coast and the leaders and the people must understand that. They have no option but to reconcile, heal and live together.

“This will be a difficult process, but the country needs to find a path to national unity.”

Gbagbo, who ascended into power in 2000, has refused to accept the results of last year's presidential election, which favored his long-time opponent Ouattara. Late last month, Ouattara supporters launched a full-scale offensive sweeping southward in a bid to oust Gbagbo.

Meanwhile, negotiations, led by the United Nations and France, for Gbagbo's surrender have failed, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday.

Ouattara supporters also renewed their attack on pro-Gbagbo military units.

Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday again appealed to all parties to initiate a process of peacemaking and dialogue and to avoid further bloodshed.

Noting that he was following "with great apprehension the dramatic events that the populations of the Ivory Coast and Libya are experiencing in these days," the pope said, "I pray for the victims and express my closeness to all those who are suffering at this time. Violence and hate are always defeat!"

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