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UN vows to investigate Ivory Coast mass killings

The United Nations has said it will do everything it can to investigate alleged killings and human rights abuses in The Ivory Coast as African leaders try to persuade the country's incumbent president to stand down.

Pressure was mounting yesterday (Monday) on Ivory Coast's defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to step down in favour of the internationally recognised November elections winner, Alassane Ouattara.

Three West African presidents from Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde were on their way to the west African country, to help try and resolve the post-election stalemate that threatens to topple the country into civil war.

The United Nations claims that at least 179 people have died in post-election violence but says that attacks on its personnel have stood in the way of efforts to investigate further.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon repeated that the United Nations backs Ouattara, vowing that its peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast (UNOCI) will do all that it can to investigate reported abuses. Part of the UNOCI mission is also to protect Outtarra from threats of violence.

"The Secretary General told President Ouattara that he was alarmed by the reports of egregious human rights violations,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"He (Ban) said UNOCI had been instructed to do everything possible to gain access to the affected areas both for prevention and to investigate and record the violations so that those responsible will be held accountable," he told Agence France Presse.

The New Year deadline Ouattara laid down for Gbagbo to stand down has gone by unheeded.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Saturday that it had picked up reports of "at least two mass graves." She warned that Gbagbo could face prosecution over human rights violations.

UN human rights experts say there is evidence that "enforced or involuntary disappearances, arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial or arbitrary executions and sexual violence had occurred and may still be occurring" in Ivory Coast.

The UN has also voiced fears that some of the homes of opponents to Mr Gbagbo have been marked to identify the ethnicity of their owners, a sign that the country could be heading for ethnic violence.

The Gbagbo government has repeatedly denied the existence of any mass graves.

The European Union and United States have put  a travel ban on Gbagbo and his associates. Meanwhile, the World Bank and the regional West African central bank has frozen the leader's finances.

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