The United Nations demanded a halt to the “atrocities” triggered by Ivory Coast’s political crisis that have left 173 dead, and accused Laurent Gbagbo’s troops of harassing its peacekeepers.
And in another blow to Gbagbo’s regime, the Central Bank of West African States said only his rival Alassane Ouattara’s globally recognised government could manage the country’s accounts there.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile repeated Thursday a call for Gbagbo to step down.
UN officials in Abidjan said Gbagbo’s security forces, shielded by civilian protesters and backed by unidentified masked gunmen, had prevented human rights monitors from probing reports of at least two new mass graves.
They said gangs of gunmen had carried out murderous overnight raids on civilians living in the poorest districts of Abidjan.
UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast man a position near a line of barbed wire at the entrance of the UNOCI headquarters in Abidjan.
“The situation is sufficiently disturbing for everyone to take it seriously and do something about it,” said Simon Munzu, UN human rights director in Abidjan.
“We’ve been stopped virtually every time we’ve tried to go into the field.”
In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council voted to condemn “the atrocities and violations of human rights committed in Ivory Coast”, citing killing, kidnaps, sexual violence, repression of protests and destruction of property.
In a statement to the council, Clinton said: “We reiterate our call for former President Laurent Gbagbo to step down immediately.
“The United States joins the international community in condemning the growing violence, the grave human rights violations, and the deterioration of security in Cote d’Ivoire,” she added.
The UNOCI peacekeeping force also complained that Gbagbo’s camp continued to besiege the waterfront Abidjan hotel where Alassane Ouattara’s rival government is holed up, protected by 800 UN troops.
Gbagbo and Ouattara have been in a standoff since a November 28 presidential election, which both claim to have won. Ouattara has been recognised by the UN Security Council, but Gbagbo is determined to cling to power.
“Serious human rights abuses and intimidation continue to be reported in several districts of Abidjan. The toll of dead, wounded and missing is rising rapidly,” UNOCI spokesman Hamadoun Toure told reporters.
Human Rights Watch said it had recorded the same crimes.
But Gbagbo’s regime remained defiant, calling on supporters to resist international pressure.
“It’s a battle,” Gbagbo’s powerful wife Simone told lawmakers. “War is being waged on us in several forms. If we do not want to be crushed, we should raise our heads, resist and have confidence in ourselves.”
But in a further blow to Gbagbo, seven finance ministers representing the other countries in the West African Monetary Union said only Ouattara’s government could deal with their shared central bank.
The decision could threaten Gbagbo’s camp with a cashflow problem.
Earlier, briefing ambassadors in Geneva, the UN deputy human rights chief said the UN had been able to confirm allegations of 173 killings and 90 cases of torture or ill treatment in Ivory Coast in the past week.
Munzu said the true toll might be much higher because Gbagbo’s troops had blocked attempts by his staff to investigate reports of two major mass graves — one allegedly holding 60 to 80 bodies, the other 30.
“We get to a roadblock, manned by heavily armed elements of the Defence and Security Forces, with whom are associated hooded people who we don’t know,” he told reporters at UNOCI headquarters in Abidjan.
The Defence and Security Forces (FDS) are police and army regulars loyal to Gbagbo. They have been deployed to prevent protests by Alassane supporters.
“And to this is added civilians, including children, who would tomorrow be classified as ‘collateral damage’ if we tried to force our way” past roadblocks, Munzu said.
Asked if the United Nations had confirmed reports that Liberian mercenaries were in Abidjan, spokesman Toure said: “Our patrols have met a group of people speaking English and claiming to be Liberian.”
He said the group was seen at night in Abidjan and was “heavily armed”.
Toure said pro-Gbagbo security forces were blocking UN patrols and supply convoys, intimidating UN police and besieging Ouattara’s base in the Golf Hotel, “supported by masked individuals with rocket launchers.”
UNOCI was having trouble finding fuel or getting flights into Abidjan airport, but promised that the force would stay on, he added.
Nigeria will host a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja, and US officials say an appeal will be made for new troops to reinforce the hard-pressed UN peacekeepers.
Ivory Coast football star Didier Drogba issued a statement on behalf of the national team calling for an end to the violence.