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Violence Continues in Ivory Coast's Zone of Confidence

  • Gabi Menezes

In Ivory Coast, the United Nations patrols a buffer area known as the zone of confidence, which separates the government held south from rebel-held north. Despite the U.N. presence, serious human-rights violations have taken place across the area.

Recently, in the northern village of Boli an argument between two children of different ethnic groups escalated into a violent brawl. Houses were burned and several people wounded with machetes. Neither the southern government nor the so-called New Forces rebels have authority in Boli, which lies in the supposedly demilitarized confidence zone, patrolled by the United Nations.

U.N. peacekeepers who were called in by the Boli villagers came too late to stop the fighting.

Yacouba Sylla is one of the dozens of people from the Dioula ethnic group who fled Boli to the nearby village of Raviart. He showed his scars, which he said he received when he was attacked with a machete.

Mr. Sylla says Muslim leaders were helpless when fighting broke out. He says that he will not return to Boli, but will make a new home in Raviart, where a platoon of 30 French soldiers is stationed.

About 6,000 U.N. peacekeepers and 4,000 French troops are in Ivory Coast, and most of them patrol the zone of confidence. But, the United Nations says this is not enough to provide security to the people in the vast area that spans the width of the country and has few good roads.

So people in the nearby village of Bombasu just a few kilometers away took security into their own hands and guard home-made road blocks with hunting rifles.

The men told VOA that armed bandits had stolen money and market goods and terrified women.

Although the incident happened earlier in the morning, it was five in the evening that U.N. patrols of Moroccan soldiers arrived to restore order in the village.

The head of the U.N. human-rights program in Ivory Coast, Simon Munzu, recognizes there are massive human-rights violations in the confidence zone, but says the main purpose of the peacekeepers in the zone of confidence is to separate the belligerent parties, not to enforce law.

"It has to be recognized that the United Nations does not have an administrative or policing or for that matter general security mandate in this zone," he said. "It is a very peculiar situation, where even though there is no local administration, never-the-less the United Nations, although it has a certain presence there, does not have a mandate to administer the territory. There is therefore an administrative and judicial void in the area."

The U.N. special representative to Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori, says he hopes next week the Security Council will authorize more U.N. peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, not only to boost security, but also help in the disarmament process.

"We certainly want it as do others like Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself because if we are going to be very serious about this we need more troops," he said. "We need also more resources in order to play our part here, we do want to, we are ready for it, and we are preparing for it because we have so many important things coming up like the DDR, the disarmament, demobilization and the reinsertion of combatants into civilian life."

The United Nations began patrolling the confidence zone a year ago. But the 2003 peace accord has never been fully implemented, and there have been numerous clashes in the neutral zone between government and rebel forces.

Recently, the major players of Ivory Coast's crisis signed a new peace agreement, and are trying to resume their stalled disarmament process.

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