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300,000 still displaced in Ivory Coast

By the CNN Wire Staff
People displaced by violence return to their villages in western Ivory Coast in April, but over 300,000 are still yet to return.
People displaced by violence return to their villages in western Ivory Coast in April, but over 300,000 are still yet to return.
  • The political crisis was settled two months ago
  • But thousands are afraid to return home
  • Communal tensions are still high in parts of the nation
  • Both sides have been accused of atrocities

(CNN) -- More than 300,000 people are still displaced from their homes in Ivory Coast two months after a political crisis was settled in the West African nation, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday.

Ongoing violence has prevented their return home.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said most of the displaced are in camps or living with host families mostly in the western part of the country.

Ivory Coast endured months of bloodshed after a disputed November election that pitted the forces of Alassane Ouattara against those of Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to cede power.

Gbagbo was captured in April, and Ouattara was sworn in several weeks later. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

The head of the Human Rights Division of the U.N. Mission in Ivory Coast has called for immediate and impartial investigations into reports of attacks by armed forces loyal to Ouattara against people in areas known to support Gbagbo.

The U.N. refugee agency said communal tensions are still high in the southwestern Sassandra region, where more than 280 civilians were killed in early May by mercenaries on the run from Abidjan, the nation's metropolitan center.

Many of the dead are buried in mass graves
--Melissa Flemming, U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman

"Many of the dead are buried in mass graves," said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the agency. "Over 500 houses and a pharmacy were destroyed in five villages. An estimated 17,000 people are displaced in that region, including an unknown number reportedly still hiding in the forest."

A month into Ouattara's term, many villages still lie empty, according to aid workers.

"Many displaced people were either victims of brutal violence themselves or witnessed others being slashed, burned or killed," said Xavier Simon, head of the Ivory Coast mission of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

"Some say they knew their attackers, whom they fear may still be near their villages," Simon said. "People tell us they can't eat or sleep properly and that they suffer from anxiety and heart palpitations. Terrified of further violence or revenge attacks, many choose to remain in hiding or as refugees. Others simply have nothing to return to, as their homes were burnt and their crops destroyed."

Displaced people are further at risk because they are in areas with food shortages and the threat of disease, heightened by the rainy season, according to Doctors Without Borders.

At the height of Ivory Coast's recent crisis, roughly 1 million were people were displaced from their homes. Hundreds of people were killed in the violence.