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Ivory Coast Experiences Civilian Casualties

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

The political power struggle continues in Ivory Coast. On Friday, President Obama urged Laurent Gbagbo to step down. Gbagbo has refused to give up the presidency after being voted out of office.

P: It's time for democracy in Cote d'Ivoire, and those who choose that path will have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

HANSEN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joined a U.N. team investigating one particularly bloody day.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

OFEIBEA QUIST: The emergency helpline at the U.N. peacekeeping mission's headquarters in Ivory Coast operates 24/7. It takes desperate calls, such as this one from civilians caught up in the fighting. Other callers offer information that may be helpful to U.N. human rights investigators like Guillaume Ngefa.

M: Right now that the situation is deteriorating, we are now receiving calls from everywhere, everywhere and from both sides. If this trend continue, I'm afraid that this may lead to a civil war.

QUIST: Ngefa was instrumental in setting up the call center. He's the number two in the U.N. Human Rights division in Ivory Coast.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)

QUIST: Ivory Coast's current conflict erupted when the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down. Now, this month's deadly shooting happened when armed men fired into a crowd of women demonstrating in support of Ouattara, says Ngefa.

M: We are going to visit the area where seven women were summarily executed by Defense Security Forces, pro-Gbagbo, on the 3rd of March.

QUIST: After a ride through makeshift checkpoints made up of burned-out car chassis, and manned by armed Ouattara supporters, the U.N. convoy stops in the heart of Abobo and a crowd gathers.

M: Yeah, in front of us, these are the clothes and the shoes of women who were demonstrating.

QUIST: So we're just seeing dozens and dozens of flip flops.

M: Yes.

QUIST: Women clearly abandoned their footwear, because they were trying to flee, I expect.

M: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, they fled. When they opened fire, it was just everybody was running all over the places. Those are evidence, clearly evidence. It's sad to document those kind of evidences, but I think justice has to be done.

M: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST: Deeper into the dense neighborhood of corrugated tin roofed houses, we meet 34-year old Salimata Sawadogo. She was among the demonstrators.

M: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST: Again, U.N. investigator Guillaume Ngefa.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

M: These are serious human rights violations. The human rights division of ONUCI is documenting all those facts.

QUIST: Charles Ble Goude is Gbagbo's youth minister and chief rabble-rouser.

M: What I want the outside world to know is that Ouattara has given weapons to his supporters and they are killing every day. Ouattara is imposing war to us.

QUIST: As the U.N. investigators prepare to leave Abobo, they're stopped by a noisy crowd of women. We have a message for Laurent Gbagbo, says Salimata Kone.

M: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abidjan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.