Officials of Ivory Coast's armed forces have announced the composition of a military administration in the divided nation's volatile west, as well as plans for tightened security in the main city of Abidjan. The new measures are being put in place amid rising ethnic tensions in the west and increasing criminal activity in the commercial capital.
The new head of Abidjan's recently formed Security Operations Command Center, Colonel Guiai Bi Poin, revealed the details of the new security operation for the city early Tuesday.
In line with promises made by Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo in a nationally televised speech last month, Abidjan will be divided into five sectors. A permanent headquarters, with toll free hot lines, will be in charge of a rapid reaction force. And around 1,700 police and security officers will patrol the city and man permanent checkpoints.
Colonel Bi Poin said the creation of the center, known by its French acronym CECOS, was part of an overall effort to fight crime and lawlessness in the commercial capital.
In another move to increase security, President Gbagbo on Saturday signed a decree installing a military administration to oversee western Ivory Coast. The cocoa-rich west has been the scene of regular clashes between native inhabitants and immigrants from the north. The decision to put the army in charge there followed a series of massacres and reprisal killings in and around the city of Duekoue that left scores dead last month.
A Dakar-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, Gilles Yabi, says the new measures, in addition to addressing real problems of security, also have a political aspect.
Ivory Coast has been divided into a government-controlled south and rebel-held north since civil war broke out nearly three years ago. A South African-mediated peace process is currently attempting to pave the way for presidential elections in October.
Mr. Yabi says Mr. Gbagbo's new plan is aimed at addressing the security worries of people living in the south. But he says the move also coincides with emerging fears of another kind of instability.
Last week, the recently fired spokesman for the Ivorian armed forces, Colonel Jules Yao Yao,and two other officers were picked up by soldiers as they left a private dinner at the home of the French ambassador. Mr. Yabi says the colonel had run afoul of some army leaders.
Colonel Yao Yao has been perceived as a moderate, Mr. Yabi says. His firing and subsequent interrogation, he says, highlights divisions in the officer corps. With such apparent splits, he says, destabilization of the army is unavoidable.
The three men were reportedly beaten and one, Major-Colonel Ali Bakassa-Traore, died in the hospital three days later.
Army representatives have denied there is any connection between Colonel Bakassa's arrest and his death.
Mr. Yabi says the incident does not bode well for the peace process.
Ivorian army officials are due to meet with representatives of the northern rebel movement, known as the New Forces, later this week to discuss going forward with the long-delayed disarmament process, a precondition for October elections.