The violence in Côte d'Ivoire has gotten so that women sitting at a vegetable stall mid-afternoon can end up in pools of blood on the ground in an instant.
A mortar attack that killed at least 25 people in the commercial capital Abidjan on 17 March came from military forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo and “could constitute a crime against humanity”, says the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI).
Nafissa Hagba saw the shells hit the market in Abobo District. “There was no firing, no warning. Just this whistling noise and then explosions everywhere. The market was chaos. It hit stalls where mainly fruit and vegetables are sold; many women were there.” Nafissa counted seven bodies.
One of the bodies was that of 30-year-old Ouattara Ousmane. After days of being holed up at home – as is the case for many Abobo residents amid fierce violence – he had gone out to buy food in the market, his brother said. “He was so happy to leave the house, where we've been cooped up for so long,” 34-year old teacher Ouattara Kapet told IRIN. “He never came back home. A neighbour told us he was under the wreck of a market stall. There was shrapnel in his neck.”
A team of UN experts who visited the site “were able to provide confirmation of the type of shells and their provenance,” UNOCI spokesperson Hamadoun Touré told IRIN.
In a report released on 15 March Human Rights Watch said organized attacks on civilians by Gbagbo's forces likely constitute crimes against humanity and that the killing of civilians by forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara “also risks becoming crimes against humanity should they become widespread or systematic”.
UNOCI said in a 19 March statement it would “take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of civilians, in accordance with its mandate”.
Many Ivoirians say they are frustrated that international forces in the country are not doing more to stop the carnage.
“Civilians continue to be killed – every day civilians are killed,” said André Banhouman Kamaté, president of the executive national office of the Ivoirian Human Rights League.
“It's not that UNOCI has done nothing….They have take action to protect civilians, but we have a situation where peacekeepers themselves cannot go into certain areas because of the insecurity.”
Kamaté said the violence is scarcely getting any attention in the world. “Côte d'Ivoire has been completely erased from the world's radar, with all that's going on in Japan, in Libya.”
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said the shelling incident “demonstrates a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law”.
An Abobo resident said this is one of many mortar attacks on civilians in the area in recent weeks.
“Urban warfare” is what the UN Refugee Agency called the Abidjan violence in an 18 March statement. Some 300,000 people have been forced out of their Abidjan homes since November, according to UNHCR.