19 October 2012

Liberia: Ellen On Urgent Mission to Ivory Coast

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

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf yesterday departed the country for a one-day working visit to Abidjan, La Côte d'Ivoire, for urgent consultation on border-related issues with President Alassane Ouattara.

Accompanying the Liberian leader are the Minister of National Defense, Brownie Samukai; the Minister of Justice, Christiana Tah; the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Dr. Edward B. McClain, Jr.; and National Security Advisor Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr.

During the President's absence from the country, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine K. Ngafuan, will serve as Chairman of the Cabinet in consultation with Vice President Joseph N. Boakai.

The visit to Ivory Coast by President Sirleaf comes days after a UN panel investigating reports of a plan to destabilize Ivory Coast identified eastern Liberia as a recruitment and training base allegedly used by Ivorian rebels fighting to unseat the government of President Alassane Ouattara.

Reuters news agency quotes the U.N. Security Council's Ivory Coast sanctions committee as saying that it would discuss the report from the panel of experts that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions on the West African country.

The latest report authored by United Nations expert panel stated that "the supporters of Gbagbo, who is in The Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity, have a 'military structure', have hired mercenaries in Ghana and Liberia and have established several training camps in eastern Liberia."

However, the Liberian government categorically denied report, terming it as untrue. Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Isaac Jackson said President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, at the just ended United Nations conference in New York, stated in clear and unambiguous language that no inch of Liberian soil will be used for anything undesirable.

He said the Liberian government remains committed to making sure that the sub-region remains peaceful.

"There's absolutely no training base in Liberia. The report about training base in Liberia is totally untrue," the deputy minister told The NEWS on telephone Wednesday.

The panel's confidential report seen in full by Reuters, said exiles supporting former President Laurent Gbagbo have organized themselves in a military structure and established a base in neighboring Ghana, from which they are working to destabilize the current Ivorian government.

The report also indicated that pro-Gbagbo Ivorian exiles have established a strategic command in Ghana, but the Government of Ghana says it has launched an investigation into the United Nations report, suggesting that exiled people supporting Cote d'Ivoire's former President Laurent Gbagbo have established a base in Ghana to destabilize the Ivorian government.

"There is the need for us to thoroughly investigate these allegations that have been lurking around now and then," the National Security Coordinator, Lt. Col Larry Gbevlo-Lartey, is quoted by the Ghanaian Daily Graphic as responding to the latest media reports.

According to the paper, the Ghanaian government has persistently refuted any involvement in skirmishes to destabilize its neighbors, stressing "what happened in the border town of Noe in Cote d'Ivoire "was purely an internal Ivorian matter and Ghana has no hand in it".

The Ghanaian government has expressed its resolve not to allow anyone or group of persons to use any part of Ghana's territory to destabilize any country, especially Cote d'Ivoire, and denied media reports that the incident happened on the Ghana-Cote d'Ivoire border.

The panel of expert, according to Reuters, was categorical when it specifically identified southeastern Liberia as the area where the Ivorian rebel base is located.

The panel: "The territory of eastern Liberia has been identified as a recruitment platform and rear base, with several (camps) for military training, for the military groups. During its investigations on arms and related materials, the Group also gathered sufficient information in order to identify the structure that recruited mercenaries and combatants for operations conducted in Ivory Coast and consequently transmitted this to the Panel of Experts on Liberia and UNOCI (U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast)."

The report's findings appear to add credence to allegations from the Ivorian authorities that military and civilian officials from Gbagbo's government, many of whom fled across the border at the end of last year's war, are continuing the fight against President Alassane Ouattara's government from Ghana, Reuters said.

There are indications that a group of pro-Gbagbo Ivorian and Liberian field commanders known as "The Generals" which includes Isaac Chegbo (alias "Bob Marley"), Oulai Tako Anderson (alias "Western Tarzan"), Gouhian Mompoho Julien (alias "Colombo"), Augustin Vlayee (alias "Bushdog"), Jefferson Gbarjolo (alias "Iron Jacket"), Bobby Sarpee and Moses Juru have already been recruited.

The U.N. Security Council's Ivory Coast sanctions committee is expected to discuss a report from its Group of Experts that monitors compliance with U.N. sanctions on the West African country.

Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat in a 2010 election won by Ouattara led to a brief war last year that killed more than 3,000 people. He is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity charges for his alleged role in the violence.

The interim report also says Gbagbo supporters were looking to operate from Mali and had been in contact with Islamists who hijacked a revolt in the north after Malian soldiers toppled the president and left a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country.

In July-August, the Liberian government deployed troops at the borders with Ivory Coast after it allowed it shut. The Liberian government said the decision was taken to prevent cross border attacks from the Ivorian side of the borders. During clashes between rebels and Ivorian troops, several Ivorian rebel fighters and Liberian mercenaries were arrested and detained. Later, the Liberian government extradited several Ivorian rebels while their Liberian counterparts are being detained awaiting trial.

During the same period, Ivorian military officers who were forced into Liberia due to the fighting were turned over to the Ivorian authorities.

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