Monrovia — Heavy fighting resurfaced along the Ivory Coast Liberian border last Friday with Liberians in the border towns of Nyaaken and Konowroken reporting the sound of heavy artillery fire. The latest cross-border resurgence is sparking renewed fears that strains could develop between Liberia and the Ivory Coast which has in the past shifted blame on Liberia, Ivory Coast has accused of allowing rebels in an attack from the Liberian side.
Speaking to FrontPageAfrica via mobile, Philip T. Jah, Assistant Superintendent for Development of River Gee County said eyewitnesses along the border confirmed to him that the fighting broke out at 5:00 AM local time in the Ivorian town of Faiteh before moving to Glaabo along the border with River Gee County.
According to Superintendent Jah, the eyewitnesses said, gunmen armed with heavy weapons attacked Glaabo and arrested the Town Chief, tied him and held him for several hours before he was released based on orders from one of the commanders of the armed men. The Ivorian Chief is said to have escaped into the Liberian town of Konowroken in River Gee County for safety where he is currently. Assistant Superintendent Jah disclosed that other Ivoirians have crossed into Liberia but the exact number is yet to be known.
Security Forces on Alert
Fighting is said to be still ongoing with gun sound heard across the border and the people of Glaabo in the Ivory Coast are said to still be indoor as the gunmen are in control of the town. The River Gee official also confirmed that residents along the border from the Liberian side have confirmed that a United Nations Helicopter was seen flying over the border towns. He said security forces are on the alert and he is calling on National Government and the Liberian Refugee and Repatriation Commission to move in and handle the situation.
Assistant Superintendent Jah said a team of security officers, including the United Nations Mission in Liberia, the police and other security personnel in River Gee County visited the border to access the situation and from their assessment, there is no spillover effect in Liberia as of now with the exception of a few people. Reuters reported Friday that the Ivorian army launched a counter-attack on Friday against a group of gunmen accused of entering the country from Liberia and killing at least eight people in a raid on the village of Fetai, the parliamentarian representing the region said.
The report quoting Ivorian army officials noted that heavily armed fighters crossed the Cavally River, which forms the boundary between Liberia and Ivory Coast, and attacked the village of Fetai early on Thursday. "The information that I have for the moment is that five villagers were killed in Fetai," MP Yaya Coulibaly told Reuters by telephone from Grabo, a town 10 km (6 miles) from Fetai. He said three Ivorian soldiers had also been killed.
"The FRCI (Ivorian army) have launched a counter-offensive to retake the village from the insurgents. There is fighting with heavy weapons right now," he said, adding that some 2,500 people had fled to Grabo from outlying villages for safety. Ouattara Do, who owns a cocoa plantation near Fetai, confirmed that five civilians were killed in the initial attack on the village and said army reinforcements were pouring into Grabo as the government sought to drive out the attackers.
Not a new Phenomena
"The fighting (yesterday) was very heavy and we think it will be even heavier today, because the arriving FRCI are well equipped, but the Liberian rebels are also well armed." Gbagbo is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for suspected crimes against humanity during the 2011 war, in which around 3,000 people died.
Cross border attacks along the Ivorian-Liberian border is not a new phenomena as over the years the border towns have witnessed the fracas. Three years ago, 18 Liberians were indicted for alleged mercenarism in Ivory Coast and are currently facing trial. Five of the 18 have been released for lack of evidence with the remaining 13 still facing trial.
The latest fighting comes just months after Liberia and its close neighbor, the Ivory Coast began a dialogue aimed at promoting reconciliation and increasing security, renewed violence has popped up again, resurrecting an influx of refugees into Liberia with bombings and shootings heard on the Liberian side of the border in the River Gee County.
Cross-border violence has calmed in the past six months, though tensions remain between locals in southeastern Liberia and thousands of Ivorian refugees who remain there after fleeing Ivory Coast's post-election conflict in 2011. More than 200,000 Ivorian fled into Liberia during the 2010-2011 post-election conflict. Close to 60,000 are still there.
EJS, Outtarra Meeting Fail to Breakthrough
Liberians living around the southeastern town of Zwedru say it is time for the refugees to go home. Human Rights Watch says hundreds of refugees have returned home to find that their land had been taken over or sold illegally. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara met in Zwedru late last year for the final day of a peace and reconciliation conference with traditional chiefs from both sides of the border. Sirleaf said at the time that it was time to go back to the days of "peaceful coexistence."It is not an option for Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia to work together. Dear friends, it is a necessity," she said.
Last June, Human Rights Watch reported that dozens of former Ivorian and Liberian combatants loyal to the previous Ivorian government were using Liberia as a base to launch raids into Côte d'Ivoire. There, they targeted civilians perceived as supporting President Alassane Ouattara. After interviewing some of the fighters, Human Rights Watch warned that more cross-border raids were likely, as the forces remained mobilized and were recruiting. According to HRW, after the information was publicized, seven United Nations peacekeepers and at least 10 civilians were killed in yet another cross-border attack into Côte d'Ivoire.
Côte d'Ivoire's November 2010 presidential election sparked six months of grave human rights abuses, after the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to recognize the results proclaiming Ouattara the victor. At least 3,000 people were killed in violence often waged along political and ethnic lines, with armed forces on both sides implicated in war crimes and probable crimes against humanity. Gbagbo was arrested by pro-Ouattara forces in April 2011 and transferred that November to the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges for four counts of crimes against humanity.
At the height of the Ivorian conflict, more than 180,000 people fled into neighboring Liberia. The vast majority sought refuge from the fighting in western Côte d'Ivoire, but hundreds of those who crossed were former pro-Gbagbo militiamen implicated in atrocities. Some of these former fighters are now key players in the cross-border raids that have targeted civilians along with Ivorian security forces. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, these fighters described their continuing hostility to the Ouattara government as well as a desire to seek vengeance for crimes committed by pro-Ouattara forces.
Soon after we released our June 2012 report, Liberia ordered the arrest of 10 people it believed to be associated with the abusive cross-border raids. These included Isaac Chegbo, known by his nom de guerre "Bob Marley," whom our reporting implicated in two massacres in western Côte d'Ivoire. By October, authorities had apprehended at least 17 people for involvement in cross-border attacks. Pretrial appeals are ongoing. During Liberia's civil wars, which ended in 2003, communities in western Ivory Coast hosted tens of thousands of Liberian refugees.
River Gee is a county in the southern portion of the West African nation of Liberia. One of the 15 counties that comprise the first-level of administrative division in the nation, it has six districts. Fish Town serves as the capital with the area of the county measuring 5,113 square kilometers (1,974 sq mi). As of the 2008 Census, it had a population of 66,789, making it the third least populous county in Liberia. Tenth largest in size, it is bordered by Sinoe County to the west, Grand Gedeh County to the north, and Grand Kru and Maryland counties to the south. The eastern part of River Gee borders the nation of Ivory Coast along the Cavalla River. Created in 2000, the current County Superintendent is Daniel Johnson.
Vulnerable to Militias
River Gee split from Grand Gedeh County in May 2000 after receiving approval from Liberia's House of Representatives in May 1997 and Senate approval in March 2000. On the east of the county is the Cavalla River that forms the Liberia's border with the Ivory Coast. River Gee's capital is Fishtown.
Prior to the 2008 Census, River Gee had an estimated population of 74,800, including thousands of people who fled to Liberia following conflict in the Ivory Coast during 2002. About 92% of the county's inhabitants derive the majority of their income from agricultural production. Rice is the principal crop in River Gee, accounting for approximately 60% of the county's production according to UN estimates. Other important crops include cassava and bananas. Since the end of Liberian civil war in 2003 which was followed by a disputed election in the Ivory Coast, militias have been very active along the borders between the two countries.
The entire western African sub region is vulnerable to the militias' movement as nearly all countries in the Mano River Union basin Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone have experienced war in the last three decades, with all these countries growing large number of rebels who are yet to be completely disarmed and reintegrated into their various societies.
In Liberia, from 1989 to 2003 dozens of rebel movements were formed and their fighters actively participated in the war. From the National patriotic Front of Liberia to the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (K and J), the Liberia Peace Council (LPC), the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), all these belligerents' groupings recruited thousands of militants some of whom were citizens from neighboring countries.
Also in Sierra Leone, several other rebel groups were formed, including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Kamajors and others with these groups also recruiting and using thousands of militants in their warfare. The RUF had collaboration with the NPFL from Liberia with the two rebel movements aiding each other with fighters.
Ivory Coast also saw the emergence of the Rebel New Forces, which was said to be backed by recruitted militants from Liberia showing the movement of militants in the region. The sequence of wars in the Mano River Union basin over the last 30 years indicate that there are thousands of militants from all the countries in the region who wandering the region in search of places to cause havoc. For now, many regional observers say unless Liberia and Ivory Coast find a way to end the nagging crisis, it could trigger serious problems for the two sides which have experience insurgences in the recent past.