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Abidjan Tense After Soldiers' Killings

  • Nancy Palus

The entrance to an army base camp that was the scene of recent fighting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, August 6, 2012.

The entrance to an army base camp that was the scene of recent fighting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, August 6, 2012.

DAKAR — There is new tension on the streets of Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan. Armed men killed at least 11 soldiers in recent days, with a new attack occurring Tuesday night in the nearby city of Agboville. It is unclear who is carrying out the attacks.

Whether it was supporters of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo or disgruntled soldiers, the incidents follow killings in the volatile west and raise questions about the country's stability. Abidjan residents said the fresh violence has once again injected fear and uncertainty in their lives.

Yusuf and Bacar were among the few people in the streets of Abidjan on Tuesday, which was a holiday to observe 52 years of Ivory Coast’s independence. They talked about the recent attacks in which armed men killed at least 11 soldiers at a police station and an army base.

“It’s total confusion,” is a common refrain. Yusuf put forth one of the widely-held speculations - that the assailants are disgruntled combatants who want compensation for helping to bring Alassane Ouattara to power.

Another prominent theory is that the attacks were carried out by supporters of ex-leader Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently awaiting trial in the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.

Ivorian Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko, in an interview with Radio France International, accused pro-Gbagbo militants for the crimes, saying they want to disturb public morale and discourage investors.

Both explanations are plausible, pointing to the challenges the country still faces, including a security sector sorely in need of reform and a pro-Gbagbo portion of the population angry about the fate of their leader.

For residents of Abidjan, the new unrest means a heightened sense of insecurity and a reminder of recent violence.

Awa works in a food shop in Abidjan. She and her family live in the Yopougon neighborhood, near the police station that was attacked last weekend. "We are not safe at all. My mother is in poor health and she’s now traumatized by all this," she said.

She added that on the day of the attack she came out of her house at 6 a.m. to go to work and saw the body of a soldier on the ground.

In the violence after the 2010 presidential election, a lot of Ivorians saw a lot of bodies. For one Abidjan resident, who did not want his name used, the recurrent violence might have some unfortunate lasting effects.

He said people who have lived through war, seeing bodies everywhere - unfortunately now they might just be numb to the violence.

The armed men who carried out the recent attacks - including the latest on Tuesday night - are still at large. Government spokeman Bruno Nabagné Koné said Tuesday that authorities are taking every measure possible to assure the people’s security. He said Ivory Coast and the Ouattara government will not be sidetracked by the violence.

For François Joseph Triffé, a trader and marketer in Abidjan, it will be important to carry out an investigation that is free of the deep divisions that still prevail in the country.

He said, "it’s only natural that those in power will blame the opposition. No government will admit that such trouble could come from its ranks - that’s fair enough."

But, he said, the important thing is to get to the bottom of things and come forth with solid proof.

The killings in and around Abidjan follow deadly clashes in Duékoué, western Ivory Coast, which has long been a hotbed of tensions between Gbagbo supporters and backers of President Ouattara.

After the Independence Day break, Wednesday is the first “official” day back to work in Abidjan. People appeared to be carrying out their activities as normal, determined not to be cowed by the unrest but were well aware of the potential for more violence.

Reporter Marc-Andre' Boisvert in Abidjan contributed to this report
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