MONOKO-ZOHI, Ivory Coast – Government soldiers killed more than 120 people in central Ivory Coast, and forced other villagers to bury them in a mass grave, survivors said Saturday.
An Associated Press reporter saw rotting limbs sticking out of the shallow grave in the village of Monoko-Zohi on Saturday, and blood covered paths snaking through the area.
"We heard the shooting. We panicked and we all ran," said Kamousse, a merchant in the now deserted, bullet-riddled and burned village.
"But my brother stayed in the house -- he said maybe it's just someone shooting into the air. Afterward they took him behind the house to the latrine, and shot him," Kamousse said.
The area has seen heavy fighting in the past two weeks between rebels and government troops. The alleged massacre would be the worst confirmed civilian slaughter in the rebellion that began three months ago and has split Ivory Coast into rebel-held north and west and government-held south.
The village is home to merchants and guest workers from neighboring African countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea who work the rich cocoa and coffee plantations in the area.
Soldiers accused merchants of feeding the rebels who hold the north, said the leader of the village's Burkina Faso community, Ibrahima Ouedraogo.
Villagers knew the attackers were government troops because of their uniforms, witnesses said. They said the dead were mostly foreign merchants and guest workers.
French forces first reported discovering the mass grave Friday, after villagers alerted them. Ivory Coast's government expressed shock at the find, and immediately blamed the rebels.
Ouedraogo said the grave held 120 men killed by Ivory Coast soldiers. Witnesses said they were buried by villagers when the soldiers left after two days of slaughter.
The grave was about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide. Two or three other bodies were dumped in the villages' wells, contaminating them, survivors said.
Ouedraogo and other survivors said the killers were Ivorian soldiers who came to the village in uniform, traveling in six trucks with Ivorian military markings.
Apparently working from lists, soldiers went house to house rounding up and killing men, Ouedraogo said.
Women and children fled into the bush, and there were no reports of deaths among them.
The French military says the village is on the rebel side of an Oct. 17 cease-fire line.
However, a rebel commander insisted Saturday that rebel fighters entered the village only after the attack, when villagers came to tell them of the killings and ask for help.
"At that point we didn't even know this area. It wasn't our territory," said Zacharia Kone, who took journalists to the village Saturday in a convoy of heavily armed rebels.