14 November 2003

Cote d'Ivoire: Ivorian New Forces Spokesman Says Gbagbo Must Go, Accra Summit Failed

interview

London — West African leaders - including Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo - gathered for an emergency summit on Cote d’Ivoire in Ghana on Tuesday. The objective was to try to get the faltering peace process back on track. But the Accra meeting ended inconclusively, except for a call by the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) for the United Nations to take over the regional peacekeeping mission in Cote d’Ivoire.

The former rebels - known as the New Forces - were not represented at the Accra talks. So how do they feel about the outcome of the summit? To find out more, on the line from London allAfrica’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton called up the New Forces spokesman, Sidiki Konate of the MPCI, who was on a private visit to neighbouring Burkina Faso.

Sidiki Konate, what is your assessment of the Cote d’Ivoire summit held in Accra this week?

Accra was a failure, yet Accra should have been the moment of hope and the solution to the deadlock in the Ivorian crisis. Accra should have been the opportunity to kick start the peace process. But Accra failed and the reason for this failure was not the fault of the heads of state of the region. The fault lies fairly and squarely at the door of Mr Gbagbo Laurent. He is responsible for the failure.

Why do you describe the Ecowas mini summit in Accra as a failure?

Because the meeting in Accra did not give a good result, because we had all hoped that this meeting could help save the situation in Cote d’Ivoire. But, according to what we heard, Gbagbo Laurent tried to avoid discussing the important questions which are blocking the Cote d’Ivoire peace process. So this meeting was not successful because Mr Gbagbo Laurent did not allow it to be.

Accra should have discussed the deadlock in the Cote d’Ivoire peace process that we’re all aware of. The idea was to get over this hurdle, this impasse, in Accra. All the stakeholders knew that. It should have been the opportunity for Mr Gbagbo Laurent to propose something concrete, because he is solely responsible for the current deadlock. But he didn’t - in the presence of all those heads of state. That’s why the summit in Accra failed.

So we are very sad for Cote d’Ivoire and today we are of the opinion that, with Mr Gbagbo Laurent, there can never be peace in Cote d’Ivoire.

Of course, we weren’t there in Accra, but from what we understand, the heads of state left the meeting totally let down by their Ivorian counterpart who just doesn’t seem to care and is just determined to continue with this unworkable situation.

So everyone is disappointed, everyone feels let down - including the heads of state - for Cote d’Ivoire and for African diplomacy and Mr Gbagbo Laurent is responsible for all of this.

We invite the international community, the United Nations, America, France and all African organisations to ask Gbagbo to leave power, like Charles Taylor in Liberia. Mr Gbagbo has to go and to allow Cote d’Ivoire to find peace.

So should we take it that the Forces Nouvelles are not prepared to go back to Abidjan and take up your posts again in the government?

We will rejoin the government when the reasons for us pulling out of the government are addressed.

And when might that be?

The issue is to change Cote d’Ivoire. We will return to the government - but only a government envisaged by the Linas-Marcoussis ((French-brokered) peace accord. That’s the issue.

For the past six to eight months, this government has not had the authority to do its work properly. Don’t forget, Madam, that the Linas-Marcoussis peace deal that we all agreed gave us the chance to resolve the Ivorian crisis. The spirit of that accord was power sharing. Mr Gbagbo Laurent has not allowed that to happen in the national reconciliation government. He has failed to respect the spirit of this accord and the government has not been able to implement the programme of the Linas-Marcoussis peace deal which should lead to free and democratic elections.

But Mr Gbagbo Laurent has violated the accord. He behaves as if he is still in control of the whole of Cote d’Ivoire, as if there has been no war and as if his party did not sign any agreement on his behalf in Paris.

Now the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has appealed to you, the New Forces, to rejoin the power sharing government and to negotiate within the government to give peace a chance Cote d’Ivoire.

Madam, you can’t say that hasn’t been done, that we haven’t given it a go. But remember that we joined this government under conditions that no other rebellion in the world would have agreed to. Even the security of our ministers was not guaranteed, that issue had not been resolved. We joined the government because Mr Gbagbo Laurent promised in Accra - in the presence of President John Kufuor (Ecowas chairman) - that he was going to issue a decree that would transfer power to the prime minister, Seydou Diarra. But did he do it? He did not.

So, it’s not a question of going back to the government. The question is why we left the government. We left because the government - which is meant to be a national reconciliation government - does not have the powers accorded to it by the agreement of Linas-Marcoussis. And it cannot work easily, because of Mr Gbagbo Laurent. So we left the government in order to find solutions. The prime minister was meant to get power, but he hasn’t got this power.

Either we just swan around in a government in big luxury cars and Cote d’Ivoire does not progress or change, or we decide to withdraw from this government to make everyone aware of our ultimate objective - which is to respect the Linas-Marcoussis accord. I mean, this government is a joke, where ministers did not even have the authority to change their personnel. I mean, look at what went on at the RTI (Radio Television Ivoirienne). This was a government where ministers did not even have the power to appoint their financial directors.

This was a government where, I tell you, the ministers were living in a limbo almost, like condemned men, unable to implement any programmes. We in the New Forces cannot be a party to this sham.

We pledged to the Ivorian people that we would to help to change this country that has been destroyed by wrong headed people with evil intent. So we cannot remain in a government and leave the country in the same state as which we found it before 19 September 2002 (the date the rebellion and attempted takeover were launched). The other side simply does not want to work.

We will go back when we are sure that the security problems for our ministers are definitely resolved. All we know today is that there is no security in Abidjan. There are all these young people working for Mr Gbagbo Laurent and they are working to kill the opposition, they are working to make terror in Abidjan. European investments are working to kill the peace process. So we need to solve the security problem. If these problems are resolved, we will be able to go back to the government.

On your security concerns, the Accra summit on Tuesday decided that 80 security personnel were going to be dispatched to provide protection for all Cote d’Ivoire ministers...

The problem is not that we should get more security from outside. The problem is to have a system that takes care of the people. But today the ministers of defence and security are not the consensus choice. Mr Gbagbo Laurent chose these two people and these two persons are working for Mr Gbagbo Laurent. We have to go back to the Accra procedure which said that the ministers should be chosen by common consensus. So we have to solve this problem first.

If today we have the defence and security ministers chosen by consensus, then we would resolve the other security questions we have now.

So is this issue of the defence and security ministers going to hold up the peace process and what about the appeal for UN blue helmet peacekeepers to replace the regional peacekeeping mission?

What good can United Nations’ soldiers do in Cote d’Ivoire if we don’t have a proper security plan and we don’t have the agreement of Mr Gbagbo Laurent to involve himself in the application of the Linas-Marcoussis accord?

So the issue in Cote d’Ivoire isn’t whether the UN sends 1,000 or 2,000 soldiers into the country, the problem is who wants peace in Cote d’Ivoire and who doesn’t want peace in Cote d’Ivoire.

All Ivorians want peace, all the African Union wants peace, but Mr Gbagbo Laurent doesn’t want peace and that’s the question. So we now need the courage to tell Mr Gbagbo that you, Mr Gbagbo, are the one who is preventing Cote d’Ivoire from having peace. You have to go. That is the question. We did it in Liberia, we’ve done this in other places. Why not in Cote d’Ivoire? And you will see, the day Mr Gbagbo Laurent leaves power, Cote d’Ivoire will not have a problem in implementing the accord.

But if you in the New Forces keep insisting that President Laurent Gbagbo must go, then aren’t you’re turning the clock back pre-Paris peace talks?

I don’t think so. We all say that we agree with the Marcoussis accord. So that means we are in a new situation. But we all say, the United Nations said, that they agree with the Marcoussis accord. We all say that we agree, but now one person does not agree with what we signed together.

So this is a new situation, with new laws and new solutions. And the new solution is that the one who does not want to implement the accord must go away. That’s the problem.

But it’s highly unlikely that President Gbagbo is going anywhere -

Mr Gbagbo Laurent was not elected in Cote d’Ivoire. He was not democratically elected. All the people know that, the UN knows, the European Union knows about it, the African Union knows about the elections in Cote d’Ivoire. It was not a democratic election. Mr Gbagbo came to power with a 'street’ vote. So, don’t try to hide this part of our history. We know our history. So, the question is to accept an agreement which is for all of us a chance to go to peace.

The problem is the one who does not accept peace, so he has to go. We have to find the means to put him to one side. 16 million Ivorians are suffering, they have no hope, because of Laurent Gbagbo. So you have to choose between the power of Laurent Gbagbo and the suffering of 16 million people in Cote d’Ivoire.

So what is your message to President Laurent Gbagbo and -

Our message is quite simple. Our message is simple. But we don’t have a message for Laurent Gbagbo. Our message is for the international community - to Ecowas, to President John Kufuor, to the African Union and (former Malian) President Alpha Oumar Konare (AU Commission chairman), to Mr (Romano) Prodi of the European Union, to Mr Kofi Annan and the UN, to the United States, Mr Bush and to France that Cote d’Ivoire’s problem is Mr Gbagbo Laurent.

Gbagbo Laurent is the major obstacle to peace in Cote d’Ivoire and now it’s time to ask Mr Gbagbo Laurent to either respect the peace agreement in its entirety or to stand down once and for all. Those are the only two messages regarding Mr Gbagbo Laurent, there is no alternative.

And, unless that happens, the New Forces will simply remain in the parts of Cote d’Ivoire that we control. We control 60 percent of this country we are going to continue working to bring happiness to our people, to set up a proper health system for everyone, to jump start the economy in our zones, because that is what our people need.

In all this rhetoric, is the priority of the New Forces the people of Cote d’Ivoire or the power you could have in government?

Madam! Let me tell you, if it’s power we were thinking of, well then we would never have walked out of the government. If we were only thinking of power, then why would we be travelling around the world explaining to everyone why Cote d’Ivoire remains a divided country? We are thinking of the people, that’s why we went to the peace talks in Paris, signed the Marcoussis peace agreement and stopped fighting, because we were sure of winning militarily. But we saw realised what this would mean for the country, so we decided to go to Paris for the negotiations.

And we made concessions in Paris. We believe in the Ivorian people. We said that Mr Gbagbo Laurent could remain as the head of state of Cote d’Ivoire, but on the condition that there was a transitional programme. So those are the sacrifices that we made.

And, look, we decided we’d come to Abidjan, even though there was not even proper security and protection for our ministers and despite the fact that we knew that we couldn’t operate our given ministries properly and despite the fact that Mr Gbagbo Laurent was still setting up militias, buying arms and inciting people to kill others in Abidjan.

If we have made all these sacrifices, it’s for the people of Cote d’Ivoire and the people of Africa, Madam.

From all that you have said, it seems that you’ll never be prepared to go back to Abidjan and be part of the national reconciliation government?

Abidjan is not a priority for us. Abidjan will be a priority when Gbagbo Laurent decides that he is going to talk about the real problems in Cote d’Ivoire and not about useless issues which he brought up in Accra and which so disappointed and let down the heads of state in Ghana.

It wasn’t the New Forces who annoyed the heads of state, it was Mr Gbagbo. He is not interested in reconciliation. It is he who remains obstinate and who doesn’t seem to care about Cote d’Ivoire.

We now hear talk of possible secession by the New Forces, including your group, the MPCI based in Bouake. Should we take this talk seriously?

Madam. I don’t think so. We are certainly going to respect whatever we have agreed to. We said in Marcoussis that we favour the territorial integrity of Cote d’Ivoire. If we wanted to secede, all we would have to do would be to issue a decree. We have territory under our belt, we have economic structures in place, we have an army, but we are not going to secede because we love Cote d’Ivoire. What we want is to see democracy restored to Cote d’Ivoire, that’s why we took up arms, it was not to divide our country.

Let people spread whatever rumours they like, we are not interested in rumours. We have accepted our responsibilities, to help the people who have been living in our zones for the past year, to be healthy, to go to school, to be able to do business and, above all, to feel like real human beings.

For the past year there have been no banks operating in our zone. For the past year the hospitals have stopped working. For one year, all the children born have not been registered. For one year, there has been no free circulation of money in our areas, simply because the politicians in Abidjan have decided to use our people as human shields, because there is no agreement from the government in Abidjan.

But don’t our people have the same right to all these services that I have mentioned? They need to go to school, they need to go to the hospitals. They need a nurse and medication. They need to take out their money which is now in this bank, so we have to take the correct decisions to allow these people to have a good life. Is that secession? I don’t think so.

We are not secessionists and we’re not worried about people who want to give us that label. We are working for the people, so that the 7 million people under our control too can live well - like people in the south. That’s our responsibility because they are living under our control.

So, with this continuing impasse, is there any chance of peace returning to Cote d’Ivoire is reconciliation possible?

But there is peace in Cote d’Ivoire, Madam! When people who were firing at one another yesterday sit around the table in Paris, and come out with a consensus document, gather in Accra - you were there yourself - and sign a document of reconciliation. Then you can be sure that they want peace.

But there are people who do not want peace and those are the people that must go. It’s simple, it’s not difficult. When they go, there’ll be peace. Look at what happened in Liberia. At least there are now hopes for peace in Liberia. Why can’t we envisage the same scenario in Cote d’Ivoire, especially as the president is a minority president, not duly elected, elected by the 'street’ if you like, so he is neither legitimate nor legal?

Now we have a peace plan - the Marcoussis accord and the Accra consensus accord - that can lead to peace. And those who don’t want to follow that are those who don’t want peace and they must step aside.

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