Ivory Coast refugees tell of rebel atrocities

"I can't go home, the rebels have guns. I don't have a gun. They kill people and rape women. They can kill children and then they take the small children to go and fight. It's impossible. I can't go back."

In the crowded Liberian refugee camps, just across the western border of Ivory Coast, there are thousands of frightened civilians who share the despair and sorrow of Djeke Fulgence.

He stands amid the dusty rows of tents in the UNHCR transit camp for refugees in Toe Town, eastern Liberia.

Djeke, 25, fled with his wife, children and other family members when pro-Ouattara rebels began firing on his home town of Toulepleu.

The Government soldiers in the area took to their heels, leaving residents defenceless. Four members of his family were shot dead.

The survivors ran into the surrounding countryside. "The rebels came with guns and started firing all over the place," said Djeke. "I saw many wounded and dead people."

At the Toe Town transit camp, the shock and fear is palpable. Terrified and traumatised, more people flood into the camp by the day.

There are constant reports of savage attacks on villages by rebels armed with guns and machetes.

Their orders, according to the refugees, are "to kill everyone and anyone". There are even reports of cannibalism by rebel forces.

More than 100,000 Ivorians have sought refuge in Liberia as the rebels have moved south towards Abidjan. Most are being housed and fed by Liberian families. In some of the smaller, more remote villages the number of fleeing Ivorians outnumbers Liberians by 20 to 1.

NATION'S DESCENT INTO TURMOIL AND TERROR

Where is Ivory Coast?

In west Africa, bordered by Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. A former French colony, it was relatively prosperous under its founding president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

What went wrong?

After Boigny's death in 1993 the economy declined, leading to a military coup, then a flawed election in which Laurent Gbagbo prevailed. Relations with the mainly Muslim north soon soured, leading to a 2002-03 civil war. France intervened and the fragile settlement created a limbo between rebel-held north and government-controlled south. The conflict re-ignited after November's long-delayed election. Gbagbo refused to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, claiming the vote had been rigged. He accuses France and the United Nations of trying to oust him.

Who is Laurent Gbagbo?

Born to a Catholic family in 1945, Gbagbo studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and became a history professor. A pro-democracy activist, he served time in prison and was rewarded with the presidency in 2000. He has two wives.

Who is Alassane Ouattara?

The former prime minister, a Muslim northerner, initially tried to distance himself from the rebels but is now clearly aligned with them. He has been holed up at a UN-protected hotel in Abidjan since the election.

What does the world say?

The UN, African Union, European Union, the US and the west African regional bloc ECOWAS all endorse Ouattara.

What did the world do?

Nigerian talk of military intervention came to naught. Diplomatic delegations have returned empty-handed. Sanctions have left Ivory Coast economically paralysed. The UN has 12,000 peacekeepers in the country.

A new civil war?

Hundreds have died in a four-month stalemate, with Gbagbo's forces being accused of crimes against humanity. A million people have fled their homes. Then last week the pro-Ouattara rebels began marching south.

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