By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara's U.N. envoy on Saturday rejected allegations that Ouattara's forces raped and killed civilians suspected of supporting incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.
Ivorian Ambassador Youssoufou Bamba was reacting to a Human Rights Watch report issued on Friday that said Ouattara's forces killed hundreds of civilians, raped more than 20 suspected supporters of Gbagbo and burned at least 10 villages in the country's far western region.
Ouattara won a presidential election last November in the world's top cocoa-growing nation, according to results certified by the United Nations, but Gbagbo has refused to cede power.
Human Rights Watch also said Gbagbo's forces killed more than 100 presumed Ouattara supporters as Ouattara's forces advanced in their March campaign. It said that on taking power, Ouattara should open an impartial investigation into serious abuses by both sides and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
"According to the reports from our camp, our troops have nothing to do with the killings of civilian populations in the concerned region," Bamba told Reuters in an e-mail. "In fact they came to their rescue."
His denial came as forces loyal to Gbagbo stepped up a counterattack on Ouattara on Saturday by firing on his hotel headquarters in Abidjan.
Bamba said pro-Gbagbo militias and mercenaries had been "committing atrocities" in western Ivory Coast for months.
"The insecurity was such that UNOCI (U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast) was obliged to leave, not to mention all the relief and humanitarian NGOs (nongovernmental organizations)," he said. "It was only when (Ouattara's forces) came in that all the NGOs, as well as the UNOCI, could come back to monitor the situation."
Gbagbo militias and mercenaries were killing people along the way as they retreated, Bamba said, adding Ouattara's forces had reported they only killed people during combat.
He added that clashes and conflicts between different communities in the country had increased recently, which he said was a further complicating factor that could not be blamed on Ouattara's forces.
According to the United Nations, about 230 bodies have been found in Duekoue and 100 in other towns and villages in Ivory Coast. The world body has urged Ouattara to investigate the killings, something he has pledged to do.
"Our administration has no objection to an international inquiry and investigations with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice," Bamba said. "It is my view that no crime related to those events should remain unpunished."
(Editing by Peter Cooney)