(New York) - Government and rebel groups are responsible for serious human rights abuses against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberian combatants are fighting on both sides, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to the United Nations Security Council.

The U.N. Security Council is holding consultations on Cote d’Ivoire on April 15. Human Rights Watch urged the Security Council to establish a human rights monitoring mission with a field presence in Côte d’Ivoire, and to call on neighboring states to keep their borders open to refugees from the war.

According to recent Human Rights Watch research, both government and rebel forces in western Côte d’Ivoire are responsible for massacres of civilians, rape, reprisal killings and systematic looting. Liberian combatants fighting on both sides are committing many of the abuses.

“Liberian fighters are playing a major role in this war, and civilians are paying the price,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division. “We’ve seen this pattern before in West Africa. The Security Council needs to act now to prevent any further deterioration in Côte d’Ivoire.”

Takirambudde said that the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone had shown the same pattern of targeting civilians, and warned that the war in western Côte d’Ivoire threatened a similar degree of civilian suffering.

Human Rights Watch called on the Security Council to encourage the West African peacekeeping force known as ECOFORCE and the French military to protect civilians. The United Nations should also urge neighboring and regional states to cooperate with the Special Court in Sierra Leone with regard to indicted individuals.