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Ivory Coast Struggles With Reconciliation Deepen

  • Nico Colombant

A soldier from the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) stands guard before the arrival of Ivory Coast's President in Duekoue on April 23, 2012. President Alassane Ouattara vowed that all those behind killings during Ivory Coast's post-poll c

A soldier from the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) stands guard before the arrival of Ivory Coast's President in Duekoue on April 23, 2012. President Alassane Ouattara vowed that all those behind killings during Ivory Coast's post-poll c

Human rights researchers and exiled opposition activists say the post-civil war government in Ivory Coast is doing too little for reconciliation. They also say a victor’s type of justice and unruly security forces are dangerously deepening an existing political divide.

More than a hundred Ivorians previously close to former President Laurent Gbagbo, including family members, are being detained in Ivory Coast.

They face charges ranging from economic crimes to orchestrating violence in the aftermath of the 2010 presidential election. And their numbers keep growing.

On state television earlier this week, Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko read documents he said had been seized from Captain Seka Yapo Anselme while he was allegedly going from Ghana to Guinea to recruit mercenaries.

The former Gbagbo security aide was shown shirtless with a passport in each hand.

Bakayoko said authorities had foiled a plot to overthrow the government and promised more arrests.

This closely followed the arrest of a key former ally of Mr. Gbagbo who had been living in Togo, Moise Lida Kouassi, as well as a deadly attack by an armed band on civilians and United Nations peacekeepers near the Liberian border.

Ivorian authorities are seeking cooperation from several West African countries, including Liberia, where wanted former allies of Mr. Gbagbo are believed to be hiding.

Mr. Gbagbo, himself, was detained for eight months in northern Ivory Coast, before being handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague last year. The former leader now awaits an August hearing on whether he should face charges of crimes against humanity.

In this context, a former spokesman for Mr. Gbagbo, Alain Toussaint, said he would be crazy to return to his country. Speaking to VOA on a recent visit to Washington, he said he does not have a suicidal soul.

“I want to be able to have freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of thought without the risk of taking a bullet.”

Mr. Gbagbo’s former party, the Ivorian Popular Front, has boycotted post-crisis legislative elections as well as reconciliation meetings.

Party leaders who have not been detained say they are being harassed and brutalized with impunity by security forces. They deny accusations Gbagbo allies were behind the June 8 attack near the town of Tai, blaming it instead on alleged mercenaries from Burkina Faso.

President Alassane Ouattara, who came to power after being declared the winner in the disputed election, has made repeated promises he would seek both reconciliation and justice.

But a pro-Ouattara soldier has yet to be arrested and planned reconciliation forums have been slow to get started.

Pro-Ouattara rebels committed atrocities during their control of northern Ivory Coast during the Gbagbo presidency, but their members have also yet to face charges.

Matt Wells, from U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, is worried about the imbalance.

“There is the sense that the justice system is not credible and really the loss of rule of law in Cote d’Ivoire has underpinned the last decade of violence and so restoring the rule of law is crucial and will only happen when the Ouattara government shows that its own side is not above the law,” he said.

One specific area of concern has been the ethnically-tense western town of Duekoue, where abuses by security forces against civilians continue. In the worst instance, in March 2011, hundreds of civilians were killed when pro-Ouattara northern-based forces made a decisive assault on Mr. Gbagbo’s remaining positions.

London-based Amnesty International has called for a review of national Ivorian criminal law to ensure that it can prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes effectively before national courts. Its research indicates the Duekoue killings were part of widespread attacks on civilians by both pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces.

Rather than more arrests, Toussaint says he would like to see sincere dialogue between the government and Gbagbo supporters, as well as the immediate release of those who did nothing wrong.

“Peace in Ivory Coast is too fragile as it is. Ivorians deserve to live without the fear of a new coup or new hostilities," he said. "It is in no one’s interest to prevent lasting peace in our country.”

Ivorian government officials say they are ready to work with political opponents who will accept Mr. Ouattara as their president, but not with those who are still resistant to the current situation.
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