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Military Mobilization in Ivory Coast Off to a Chaotic Start


In Ivory Coast, the government's plan to mobilize thousands of young men to fight rebels is off to a chaotic start.

Hundreds of young men chanted traditional war songs as they gathered outside the gates of army headquarters in Abidjan's central business district Tuesday.

On Saturday, the country's defense minister called on all men between the ages of 20 and 26 to report to the army starting on Tuesday.

But the plan appeared to fall apart Tuesday, when army officials said they had not been provided with any recruitment supplies, such as uniforms, registration papers, or a comprehensive plan on how to process the new recruits.

Angry and frustrated, hundreds of would-be recruits marched to the presidential palace to protest.

One man, 23 years old and unemployed, said he wants to fight to end the conflict, which he said has killed business. He said he has not been able to find work in Abidjan since the fighting began.

He said he has lost relatives in the fighting, including a brother who was a paramilitary police officer. He said he wants to go to the front not so much to avenge his brother's death, but to smash the rebellion so that life in his country can return to normal.

Government officials said they would likely postpone the recruitment to later in the week.

The chaotic start of the recruitment drive came as Ivorians expressed growing frustration over what some say is the government's failure to organize a concerted effort to end the rebellion, now in its third month.

The conflict began on September 19, when mutinous soldiers launched a failed coup attempt and took most of the center and north of the country. The conflict grew at the end of last month, when new factions emerged and captured key towns in western Ivory Coast.

The government, largely unable to contain the rebels' advances, has hired foreign mercenaries to train what military experts say is an ill-equipped and undisciplined army.

While hundreds of young men turned out to enlist, many others chose to stay home. A 22-year-old man who identified himself as William told VOA he will not go to the front because he does not want to fight his own people.

He said that if he goes to the front, it would be like poking his own eye with his own finger, because it could be his own relative or a friend that he will be told to shoot. William said he would be defending a political party. He asked why his country's leaders do not send their own children to fight, instead of sending them to Europe to study. He said it is the poor who are being asked to go to the front.

The death toll in Ivory Coast's rebel conflict has continued to mount as clashes are reported almost daily between loyalist forces and rebels. Mass graves have been discovered in at least two locations over the past week.

Fears that the conflict would escalate grew this week, after the rebels, who are currently in negotiations with the government in Togo, threatened to pull out of the talks. The insurgents accuse the government of carrying out a massacre in the west of the country.

The government has denied the charge and has said it welcomes an international inquiry.

Amid the rising tensions, Western embassies this week stiffened their warnings for their nationals to leave the West African country, once considered an oasis of stability in a troubled region.

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