Armed gangs sowing terror in northern Ivory Coast: HRW

Armed gangs are running amok in northern Ivory Coast, where residents are being subjected to relentless, sometimes deadly attacks, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

HRW said it had documented 15 violent attacks in recent months, in which at least four people were killed and at least 22 wounded.

Ivorian media have also carried several reports on the violence, which has been blamed on former fighters from Ivory Coast`s 2002-2011 civil conflict.

"People living, working, and travelling in northern Ivory Coast are being terrorised by armed men who appear to operate with little fear of being stopped, much less prosecuted," Corinne Dufka, West Africa director of the US-based rights group, said in a statement

Banditry has long been a problem in northern Ivory Coast but residents had noted a slight improvement in 2013.

This year, however, the security situation had "dramatically worsened", HRW said.

Buses, cars and homes were being targeted in near daily attacks by gunmen armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, among other weapons, the report said.

Many victims had said they had "given up reporting attacks because of the lack of response", HRW added.

The report urged Ivorian authorities to step up security in the region, disarm former combatants and prosecute those responsible for the attacks.

Ivory Coast was divided for a decade between a rebel-held north and a south controlled by forces loyal to ex-president Laurent Gbagbo.

The violence peaked after a disputed presidential poll in late 2010, which Gbagbo`s rival Alassane Ouattara was credited by the international community as winning over the incumbent.

A four-month standoff between the two ensued, ending only after Ouattara`s forces overran the south and detained Gbagbo.

While thousands of former rebels have since been integrated into the national army many are still armed and jobless, posing a threat to the country`s peace.