The NEWS (Monrovia)

8 October 2012

Cote d'Ivoire: Security Tightened in Ivory Coast

Photo: Glenna Gordon/UNHCR
An Ivorian refugee gets a lift on a motorbike taxi to Zwedru in southeastern Liberia.

The Ivorian government has tightened security across the country after troops repulsed what it called coordinated attacks on Sunday night and early Monday on security installations, the VOA has reported.

The government said unidentified armed men attacked the military and police installations and a power plant in and around the commercial capital, Abidjan.

The gunmen clashed with Ivorian security forces late Sunday night in the southeastern town of Bouana, just 60 kilometers outside Abidjan, in an attempt to filch weapons from police and military barracks.

However, according to Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi, few hours later, gunmen dressed in military uniforms briefly seized control of the Azito electricity plant in Abidjan, damaging one of its turbines.

Speaking on state television Monday night to reassure the population, Mr. Koffi said the situation was now "under control."

He disclosed the assailants took nine individuals into custody in connection with the attacks: two civilian policemen, two military policemen, three sailors and two civilians. He said they wore military uniforms and were able to disarm the security forces standing guard at these facilities who mistook them for their friends.

The Ivorian Defense Minister said state security are searching for the unidentified armed men and the government will be reinforcing security at "strategic sites" across the country.

"There are several theories as to who and what are behind the wave of often deadly attacks that began in August. Some said failed disarmament following two civil wars and ten years of de-facto division have fed criminality.

Others point to discontented members of the security forces, in particular the new and still relatively disorganized national army that includes former rebel fighters who fought on behalf of current president Alassane Ouattara in last year's conflict," a western Journalist analyzed.

The Ivorian government blames the violence on loyalists of former president Laurent Gbagbo who lost a November 2010 presidential election but refused to step down, reigniting a civil war that killed 3,000 people.

Mr. Gbagbo's political party, now the lead opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front, or FPI, says the government is using the violence as a pretext to mount a witch hunt against its opponents.

The party's number two, Laurent Akoun, is currently serving a six-month prison sentence for "disruption of public order" for reportedly calling for civil unrest during a public meeting.

The party's interim Secretary-General, Dr. Kodjo Richard, said arrests of its members are aimed at intimidating and weakening the party.

He said the FPI is a political party, not a military force. Dr. Kodjo Richard said they have always sought power through democratic means. He said what is going on in the country, the attacks on the military, have nothing to do with them.

However, several elite members of the Gbagbo camp fled into neighboring countries after the conflict, primarily to Ghana. Those pro-Gbagbo exiles are accused of hiring mercenaries, funding deadly cross-border raids against civilians in western Ivory Coast and masterminding a plot to overthrow the Ouattara government.

Ivory Coast only recently re-opened its land border with Ghana after shutting it down for two weeks following raids that it said had been launched from Ghanaian soil.

Analysts said it is unlikely that diehard Gbagbo supporters, in exile currently, have the means to actually topple the Ouattara government by force.

However, analysts also said that the ongoing attacks, as well as subsequent accusations and government crackdowns, are undermining efforts to repair years of division.

Dialogue between the government and the opposition has repeatedly stalled out. So far, only members of the Gbagbo camp have been arrested and charged for war crimes and abuses reportedly committed by both sides during the conflict. The Ouattara government is repeatedly accused of "victor's justice."

The United Nations special envoy to Ivory Coast on human rights, Doudou Diene, said an end to impunity, as well as support for political diversity, are fundamental to restoring security.

He said Ivory Coast has already lived the consequences of its deep political divisions. He said political parties must be able to express themselves within a legal, democratic framework to avoid being tempted to resort to other, less than legal, means.

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