An international peace advocacy group warns that a return to war in Ivory Coast could spark a regional conflict, drawing in Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso, and will put the Liberian peace process into jeopardy. Gabi Menezes reports from West Ivory Coast, where rebels accuse Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo of recruiting Liberian militias.
An analyst from the Brussels-based think-tank the International Crisis Group, Gilles Yabi, says that if there is war in Ivory Coast, it will draw in former combatants from Liberia's 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.
Mr. Yabi says that it is difficult to control the porous western border between Ivory Coast and Liberia, where there is a continuous movement of weapons and people between the two countries.
A report released earlier by the International Crisis Group urges the international community to make disarmament a priority in Ivory Coast, even if it means pushing back the timetable for elections.
During the fighting which began in 2002, both forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebels used Liberian militias. In the western town of Man, close to the Liberian border, people are still afraid that Liberians will be used in a renewed conflict. They say that of all the forces that entered Man, the Liberians were the most brutal and killed many civilians.
Since 2002 country has been divided into a rebel-held northern territory, and a government-controlled south. Both the government and rebel held zones share the Liberian border, and the main western town of Man is controlled by the so-called New Forces rebels.
The New Forces commander in Man, Yeo Cimitiere, accuses the government of recruiting new Liberian militias from amongst the 17,000 Liberian refugees in the country.
The rebels also say that Mr. Gbagbo is also supported by Guinea and is recruiting militias from across the Guinean border.
The government denies all allegations, and calls the New Forces a militia group.
The United Nations, helped by French troops, is patrolling a buffer zone, known as the zone of confidence, that separates the two sides. A U.N. spokesperson, Hamadoun Toure, says the organization is particularly concerned about renewed militia activity in the west, where clashes between rebels and pro-government militias took place at the end of February.
"So far, we have managed to prevent wide actions from these people violating the zone of confidence," he said. "As you know, we have a mandate to prevent the violation of the zone of confidence by militia groups."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also warned that events in Ivory Coast may spin out of control with consequences for the whole of West Africa. He has asked for an additional 1,200 peacekeepers to help enforce an arms embargo in hopes of preventing renewed fighting.