Monday, 11 April 2011
A macabre welcome greeted new arrivals to Abidjan on Tuesday morning: a dozen corpses lined up on a roadside by a petrol station, bullet wounds to their heads.
The wounds and the neat line-up of the bodies suggested an execution. A soldier in the forces of Alassane Ouattara, now in control of the area, said they were shot by troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, as they rushed to meet advancing Ouattara soldiers.
After days of promise, Ouattara's rebels launched their final assault to unseat Gbagbo. A lull in fighting on the motorway leading to the centre of Abidjan, the one-time "Paris of Africa", allowed the air to be filled with birdsong. But the acrid stench of death was apparent.
Further down the road, a burnt-out armoured vehicle from Gbagbo's army straddled the road and the gutter, smoke still wafting from its insides.
A civilian was hiding between two corpses lying in the middle of the road. The bodies were pro-Gbagbo soldiers blown out of a pick-up truck mounted with a machine gun.
Close by, an army tank was in flames, its own light ammunition popping like firecrackers.
It was not clear how the vehicles came unstuck. But earlier, UN and French forces had confirmed they would use their mandate to protect civilians as grounds to take out Gbagbo's heavy weapons.