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Ivory Coast Rebels Have Double Life in Burkina Faso

  • Nico Colombant
  • Zoumana Wonogo

While the Ivory Coast peace process stutters along, many northern rebel leaders have established a double life in neighboring Burkina Faso.

A song pays homage to one of the Ivorian rebel commanders, known as "Commandant Wattao."

He used to play it in his bar, before it was shut down amid reports of drug, girl and arms trafficking.

Rebel-occupied northern Ivory Coast borders Burkina Faso and many Ivorian rebel leaders have spent time there since the start of their insurgency in late 2002.

An Ouagadougou resident says many Burkinabes would have liked their Ivorian guests to be more discreet.

He says Ivorians are known as big party people and that they tried to export their lifestyle into Burkina Faso, including bringing their own DJs. Sometimes, he says, they went too far.

They even started setting up roadblocks to racket drivers inside Burkina Faso, prompting local authorities to crack down on their illegal activities.

One of the rebels who owns a house in Burkina Faso's capital is Fofie Kouakou, the commander of the northern Ivory Coast Korhogo zone. He is now under a U.N. travel ban for alleged war atrocities.

But a man who lives across from him says he is a very nice neighbor.

"No problem. Our relation is very good. He's quite sympathetic," he says. "He helps everybody here in Burkina Faso, if you want something, like money. He has no problem with Burkina people. With the Ivorian military rebels, there are no problems."

This man says many Burkinabes are against rebellions, in general, but that they agree with this one.

He says fighting for more northerners to be recognized as full citizens is a good thing. He says many Burkinabes in Ivory Coast are among those who feel excluded.

One woman, who runs a bar, says despite the recent crackdown, some of the rebels are still wild, driving around in big cars with tinted windows and women inside. She says she has no choice but to accept them. She says they are still human beings like everyone else.

But when rebel leader Guillaume Soro visits, residents say he gets a reception like a head of state. His wife, who is Burkinabe, and child live here.

Burkinabe officials have denied accusations by Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo that they back the rebels, but they refuse to say anything about the rebels' obvious presence in their country.

Under French colonial rule, the two countries were united. Following independence, many Burkinabes went to work in Ivory Coast cocoa fields. They used to have the right to vote in Ivorian elections, but since the early 1990's, those rights have disappeared and discrimination against them has increased.

Southern authorities usually treat northerners, who say they are Ivorian, with even harsher discrimination than they do those who say they are citizens of Burkina Faso and other countries. Some Ivorian northerners sometimes just say they are Burkinabe, adding to the confusion between the two countries.

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