'act on youth violence'

Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN - Ivory Coast's authorities must eradicate violence and intimidation by pro-government youth groups to ensure a peaceful election in the world's top cocoa producer later this year, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

A report by the US-based rights body called on President Laurent Gbagbo to support the investigation and prosecution of members of pro-government groups like the Student Federation of Cote d'Ivoire (Fesci) which it said had attacked and killed opponents since 2002.

A failed coup that year triggered a brief civil war that split the West African state into a rebel-held north and a south controlled by Gbagbo's government.

Gbagbo, elected in 2000, agreed a peace deal with the New Forces northern rebels last year which has led to the scheduling of a long-delayed presidential election for November 30.

Human Rights Watch said since 2002, the Fesci had effectively been acting as a violent "pro-government militia" in support of Gbagbo and his ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party.

Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the government fad failed to curtail the students' violence.

"There is a history of calamitous elections in Ivory Coast," said HRW's Dustin Sharp, who researched and wrote the latest report entitled "The Best School: Student Violence, Impunity, and the Crisis in Cote d'Ivoire." - Reuters