Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast’s would-be president, has claimed he can prove that his rival Laurent Gbagbo ordered post-election violence and has called for him to face international justice.
Mr Ouattara’s accusation that his rival ordered the assassination of Ivorians by foreign “mercenaries” and others is the latest twist in a six-week stand-off that has left the world’s biggest cocoa producer at risk of a return to civil war.
“Laurent Gbagbo has blood on his hands,” Mr Ouattara told French radio on Thursday. “We have proof.”
Mr Gbagbo lost November’s presidential run-off election, according to results certified by the UN, but has refused to call time on his 10-year rule, despite near-unanimous international condemnation and sanctions against him and his entourage.
On Thursday the UN raised its toll of confirmed deaths during the crisis to 210.
Human rights groups and the UN’s rights chief have documented killings of Ouattara supporters and hundreds of disappearances. The violence has been concentrated in Abidjan, the commercial capital, and the west, long the scene of bitter land disputes.
The UN said on Wednesday that the number of Ivorian refugees who have fled across the Liberian border has passed 22,000.
The military has remained loyal to Mr Gbagbo, as have youth militias. Diplomats and security experts said mercenaries from neighbouring Liberia have been recruited to Mr Gbagbo’s cause – a charge the Gbagbo camp has denied.
Attention has focused on the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, a group of perhaps 2,000 militiamen that played a key role in the brutal Liberian civil war, and which has operated from Ivorian territory for years.
Mr Ouattara, holed up with his parallel government at an Abidjan hotel under the protection of UN peacekeepers, said: “I have already written to the secretary-general of the UN to ask that the International Criminal Court send a team of investigators to Ivory Coast, and I am told that this will be done in coming days.”
The court did not immediately respond to requests for comment but it has previously said it is monitoring the situation in Ivory Coast.
The crisis has reopened the rift that runs across the centre of the west African nation. Southerners, largely Christian, tend to back Mr Gbagbo, who has whipped up feeling against predominantly Muslim northerners, often styled as foreigners.
Mr Ouattara is supported by the rebels who have controlled much of the north since a brief civil war split the country in 2002.
African leaders have united against Mr Gbagbo, with the latest mediation team holding inconclusive meetings in Abidjan this week.
The West African regional bloc has acknowledged Mr Ouattara’s call for threats to be backed with military intervention if necessary but there are questions over the combat-readiness of the regional force.