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Ivory Coast Violence Escalates


Last week five died in Ivory Coast during battles between a militia and the local population. Some say this kind of violent disorder has been planned.

Hervé Tailly watches the images of the burning camp on his mobile phone.

Last week residents chased the several hundred members of the Group of Patriots for Peace, or GPP, out of Yopougon, Abidjan's most populous district, where they had been camping. They set fire to their tents.

Witnesses say, two GPP men were tied to tires, doused in gasoline and burned alive. The next morning the small heap of debris still smolders on a junction while locals go about their daily business.

Tailly was one of those who were, as he says, retaliating against the GPPs constant violence. He smiles as he watches his film.

He says he is happy when he sees the images, because the GPP has left the area. But he wants to know whether the authorities will now disarm them, so that they do not become a menace in another area.

Tailly says ever since the GPP arrived in the area they have been causing trouble.

He says, when you go to the market they threaten foreigners and they just take what they want. If you are walking along with your girlfriend, he says, they will just attack you, take your phone and take advantage of the girl. But, he says, there is nothing you can do, because they are protected by the head of army.

Not even the police can control them, Yopougon residents complain.

There was such relief when they left. Residents danced and celebrated until the early morning, even though two of their own had been killed in the fighting.

The leader of that GPP unit is Jean Francois Kouassi, better known as General Jeff Fada. He says the GPP are merely a group of patriots who volunteered to help defend the republic when northern rebels attacked the south in 2002.

The latest spate of violence coincided with a United Nations decision on how to continue with the peace plan.

Fada generally agrees with Tailly's version of events, but says his men kept to themselves.

"That's rubbish, they do not attack anybody," he said. "But they have no food. They have nothing. If they have a bit of work, they go and work. If anybody steals, we punish him. And even if they do steal, this is not the way to do justice, is it?"

Fada says the GPP have no income and have been neglected by a disarmament program, which is part of a United Nations peace plan to reunite the country. Under the plan, militia members are given money to set up in civilian life.

"We are ignored in the program for disarmament, so I could not contain the boys," he explained. "So I brought them there to have their own camp to just leave people alone, because they used to protest."

The vast majority of Abidjan's residents have little sympathy for them, however.

The opposition PDCI has gone so far as to say President Laurent Gbagbo is protecting them and thus encouraging a spirit of lawlessness in Ivory Coast.

PDCI Secretary General Alphonse Djédjé Mady says these sad events are a result of the presidential clans complicity. "How else," he says, can an officially disbanded militia still exist and interfere with a peaceful community like that?"

Fada says his militia is not supported by anybody and fends for itself. While they have sought refuge in the police training academy, Abidjan's population waits to see where next they will decide to move.

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