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Anti-Militia Groups Form in Ivory Coast

New vigilante groups are being formed across southern government-held Ivory Coast, to oppose militia groups who support President Laurent Gbagbo.

A group of four men walk in darkness around Daloa, among the crickets, trying to survey militias and wayward security forces.

Their leader, Moussa Traore - a schoolteacher by day - says all villages in the area are in his words "infested" with militias, calling themselves patriots. He says what he calls "legal" security forces are also behind racketeering, intimidation and sometimes the killing of northern Ivorians and immigrants. He says security forces try to pass this off as ordinary crime.

The patrol team peers inside cars, much like militias and police do at their own checkpoints. A main difference is the patrols are not armed. But Mr. Traore says even so, they will not let themselves be terrorized by supporters of the president. He says, just by holding their patrols, they help end human rights abuses.

Four teams of four set out on foot every half hour, north, south, east and west from their base, at the large house of an ethnic Dioula, before being replaced by new patrols.

Daloa was taken by northern rebels after the start of their insurgency, in late 2002, but was quickly retaken by government forces. Allegiances to one side or the other here are mostly split along political, religious and ethnic lines.

A woman from President Laurent Gbagbo's ethnic group, a Bete, Jeanne Zadin, denies there is a security problem in Daloa. She says United Nationd troops are here now, and that they do not seem too worried about security. She says she sees them partying and their vehicles out on the streets until four in the morning.

But a Muslim leader, Imam El Hadj Abou Toure, begs to differ. He says security forces use alleged rebel incursions as a pretext to launch raids on poor Muslim northern communities in remote areas, which are not policed by the peacekeepers. He says people are humiliated, robbed, beaten and sometimes killed. His mosque was shut down for eight months because it was a target of too many security raids.

Back at his base, Mr. Traore says he is afraid for the future of Ivory Coast. He says, unless there are free and fair elections in October, the situation could get worse and civil war could give way to ethnic fighting.

He says the peacekeepers came to help, but that U.N officials say it is Ivorians, themselves, who must organize disarmament and resolve their differences in applying the stalled peace process.

As he sets out on his second patrol of the night, Mr. Traore says he wonders, why did the peacekeepers bother showing up in the first place?