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Côte d'Ivoire: 'People burn tyres with the bodies to defuse the smell'

People who have been able to escape Abobo. Many left behind face intimidation by armed men when trying to flee. Photo: Alexis Adélé/IRIN.[DAKAR] When people in parts of Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital, see smoke these days, they don't know if just tyres are burning, or tyres and bodies, resident Paul* told IRIN.

Paul lives in Abobo, a district thousands of people have fled in recent days because of heavy fighting between forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo and armed groups backing Alassane Ouattara.

"When we see smoke, we figure residents are probably taking care of some of the bodies. One day there was a body right in front of my door. We pulled it to an isolated area until it could be burned. The undertakers won't come for bodies once they've started to decompose so people in the neighbourhood are incinerating corpses to get rid of the smell and especially the disease risk.

"People burn tyres with the bodies to defuse the smell a bit. This is done completely unceremoniously, of course. No time for talking or prayer. Everyone is gripped by fear; people just do the job as quickly as they can so they can get home.

"People are losing loved ones, never to see a trace of their bodies again - no one has time to go around identifying the bodies.

"I ask myself, when will the international community turn its attention to the catastrophe unfolding in this country?

"The entire world is watching closely the situation in Libya, in Tunisia, in Egypt. They mustn't forget Côte d'Ivoire. We've got the same blood running through our veins.

"We don't even know whom to turn to any more.

"For those who are still in Abobo, food and medicines are running out. Cars don't circulate any more. Shops are closed; their owners fear looting.

"One day an aid organization was going to help us, but they were unable to get to us; security forces stopped them.

"It's nearly impossible to leave now, or even to go from one neighbourhood to the next; there are armed men at makeshift roadblocks everywhere. They ask your name, they rob everything you've got, they beat you up.

"The UN and regional bodies must do something to save the country. No prominent Ivoirian can stand up any more and say 'I'm not for X or for Y leader - we must simply rein in the violence and save Côte d'Ivoire'. It would be too dangerous because today everyone is so radically one side or the other.

"I am begging the two camps to address the humanitarian and security catastrophe the population is facing, then take on the political problems."

(*not his real name)

Source: IRIN - humanitarian news and analysis from Africa, Asia and the Middle East

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