I.Coast starts exhuming victims of post-election conflict

Pro-Laurent Gbagbo militiamen patrol in the empty streets of Abidjan on March 31, 2011.  By Jean-Philippe Ksiazek (AFP/File)

Pro-Laurent Gbagbo militiamen patrol in the empty streets of Abidjan on March 31, 2011. By Jean-Philippe Ksiazek (AFP/File)

ABIDJAN (AFP) – Ivory Coast on Thursday launched a massive operation to exhume the bodies of those killed during a violent post-election conflict which left some 3,000 dead by the time it ended in 2011.

“To this day, two years after this tragedy, a number of bodies and human remains still lie in public places, burial plots, places of worship, to name a few,” Justice Minister Gnenema Coulibaly said during a ceremony.

“The security situation at the time did not allow… for decent burials of the deceased,” he said.

Violence broke out in the country when former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to quit after his defeat in a November 2010 election to now-President Alassane Ouattara.

The crisis culminated in two weeks of war in Abidjan between fighters supporting the rival presidents which ended on April 11 when Gbagbo was arrested in his bunker, with military assistance from UN and French forces.

Several massacres were reported to have taken place in the restive west of the country.

The exhumation operation was launched in the vast Abidjan district of Yopougon, which was the last pro-Gbagbo militia stronghold, and is expected to last for about a year.

The minister Coulibaly said that out of the 57 burial sites so far discovered throughout the country, 36 were in Yopougon.

He said the exhumations would “allow families to grieve” aid the country’s courts to hold “transparent and fair” trials.

“Here in Africa, when you say that you’ve lost a child, people ask you where the grave is. I don’t know what to say,” Kouassi Koffi said, a 63-year-old father of one of the victims.

An investigation, ordered by Ouattara and presented last year, showed that his forces had killed more than 700 people during the crisis, but that those of Gbagbo had killed twice as many.

Gbagbo, is the first former head of state to be brought before the International Criminal Court where he faces four counts of crimes against humanity for allegedly fomenting the wave of violence that ensued after the elections. He has denied the charges against him.

International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised Ivory Coast for being biased and for not honouring its promise of holding relatives of Gbagbo accountable for the crisis.