Liberian mercenaries 'loot, rape and kill' in I Coast: UNHCR

Liberian mercenaries 'loot, rape and kill' in I Coast: UNHCR

Spokesman Jacques Franquin told AFP the mercenaries were an opportunistic "third force" taking advantage of post-election clashes between troops loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo and those supporting internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara.

"They are neither pro-Gbagbo nor pro-Ouattara, they are merely profiting from the situation. They loot, they rape, they kill," said Franquin, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Abidjan.

"We are very concerned, the population is panicked." "Guiglo is in a lawless zone, there is no functioning police, everyone does what they want."

The west of the country which borders Liberia has been a hotbed of violence in the post-election dispute along with the economic capital Abidjan. The United Nations mission (UNOCI) said yesterday a UNHCR warehouse was looted and attacked in the region, which Franquin confirmed, saying the attack was by "militia and people speaking English, probably Liberians."

He said on Wednesday "they stole an HCR vehicle. We later saw them in town with a machine gun on the roof. A little while later another group arrived, they stole a 4x4, a broken pick-up and two motorbikes." "That night, it was fireworks. They emptied out an HCR office, carrying out furniture, computers and more than 12 motorbikes. They loaded everything onto a truck.

"There are about 20,000 displaced in Duekoue and tens of thousands in Guiglo. In the latter, between 500 and 1,000 people gathered in front of the UNOCI base to seek protection," added Franquin.

According to the UNHCR spokesman it had become "nearly impossible" to work in the region. The UN human rights office said today it was looking into unconfirmed allegations that about 200 west African nationals including people from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Togo, have been killed in the west around the town of Guiglo.

Thousands of people fled fighting between troops loyal to the rival presidents this week in the area. Guiglo and Duekoue are key crossroads leading east to the political capital Yamassoukro and south to San Pedro, the world's biggest cocoa exporting port.

Many Liberian mercenaries took part in the Ivorian conflict, on both sides, in 2002. Liberian militias sent by then president Charles Taylor backed rebels trying to oust Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, who armed the anti-Taylor movement MODEL.