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Controversial Book Calls for Resistance to Ivory Coast Peace Deal - 2003-06-12


A controversial new book in Ivory Coast is calling for resistance against a French-mediated peace deal, which is being implemented slowly due to opposition from the party of President Laurent Gbagbo. The book is called, France's War Against Ivory Coast, and it was partly written by the nation's parliamentary speaker, Mamadou Koulibaly.

The cover of the 100-page book depicts a colonial-era picture of a grim-looking Frenchman.

Mr. Koulibaly and two co-authors allege former colonial power France was behind the insurgency that began in September.

Mr. Koulibaly also lashes out against the French-mediated accord that was signed in January to end the war. The agreement has established a government with a prime minister and nine rebel ministers, but little else.

The party of President Gbagbo, of which Mr. Koulibaly is an influential member, has blocked many initiatives to move the agreement forward on such issues as amnesty for the rebels, or new nationality rules for political candidates. The book is essentially a political pamphlet, with little regard for actual facts, but it is still receiving a lot of attention.

At a book launching ceremony in Abidjan last week, Mr. Koulibaly said he believes the peace deal amounts to a constitutional coup.

"What the rebels and the prime minister want to impose is peace by force," he said. "What the president wants is peace by liberty. Let Ivorians decide. But they are telling us, do not decide, just do what you have been told to accept. What we are saying is, that is not how democracy works."

Mr. Koulibaly is now calling for a campaign of civil disobedience against the French-mediated accord, until rebels who still control the northern half of the country disarm.

One of the book's co-authors, American Gary Busch, alleges France is backing the rebels for economic reasons. Mr. Busch says France is afraid that President Gbagbo wants to open up Ivory Coast to economic competition, instead of depending exclusively on the former colonial power as previous presidents did.

"Of course in francophone Africa, Ivory Coast has always been the jewel in the crown, under Houphouet-Boigny and Bedie, they were able to use that and control things like the BCAO [Commercial Bank of West Africa], and also control things through the French franc with the CFA franc, said Mr. Busch.

"A lot of the major businesses in coffee, coca, etc., are very important to the French economy," he continued. "I do not think the French really care a great deal who runs the place, as long as they can maintain control. It became very clear to them when Gbagbo came in that he was going to open things up to a much wider economic audience. That made the French mostly unhappy that their monopoly position would no longer be maintained by tradition and that they would have to compete economically with the rest of the world."

Mr. Busch, who runs an international transport company registered in the Bahamas, says he was approached by the French government to funnel arms from Eastern Europe to Burkina Faso, where Ivorian rebels allegedly have bases.

The French Foreign Ministry has denied any covert plot or involvement in the insurgency, but French officials have remained at the center of the crisis since its very beginning.

During the first weeks of the uprising, opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, who is popular in the north, sought refuge at the French Embassy in Abidjan, sparking protests against French businesses in the government-held south.

Mr. Ouattara is now living in self-imposed exile in France. The peace accord reached in France sparked more protests against French interests, until President Gbagbo asked southerners to try what he called, "bitter medicine," for the sake of peace.

The French community in Abidjan, which numbers more than 10,000, is still reeling from the protests. Catherine Rechenmann, the president of an association of French citizens, says she is concerned by the rumors that are circulating about the supposed responsibility of the French in the civil war.

"Our role is to make sure the real information is communicated to Ivorians, and not just rumors," she explained. "The French community has been shaken by these rumors and we must counter this with information that is true, that can be verified. The French community here remains very vigilant, but we hope there will be reconciliation for everyone who works and lives in Ivory Coast, and not just for the French community, but for all communities."

Most of the French expatriates living in Abidjan stayed in the city, but those in northern, rebel-held zones fled as soon as the conflict began.

Ivorian rebels themselves accuse the French of taking sides, saying that, if French peacekeeping troops had not arrived to monitor a cease-fire line last year, rebels would have been able to march all the way to Abidjan.

Efforts to implement the peace agreement have progressed very slowly. One major obstacle has been the inability of the different parties to agree on a consensus minister of defense in the power-sharing government.

In the meantime, the French government, even though it has been criticized by all sides, has been called on to provide the stability needed for the reconciliation process to advance.

French soldiers, along with peacekeeping troops from west Africa, have been helping with security at the Abidjan airport, in other parts of the south when rebel ministers travel, and in the west, where the situation remains volatile, because of the presence of Liberian mercenaries.

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