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Western Ivory Coast Rebels Split From Movement

Disenchanted western rebels in Ivory Coast say they are splitting from the main rebel movement, amid tensions to build a new reconciliation government in the main southern city, Abidjan.

Rebels out west in the city of Man train together in the mornings, amid traffic. However, in this lush region, divisions within the rebel movement are apparent.

Fighting in the war in 2003 and 2004 was the worst in western Ivory Coast and the main northern rebel group known as the MPCI, joined forces with two western-based factions, known as MPIGO and MJP, in an umbrella group called the New Forces.

But, in many rebel-held western cities and crossings, those in control are often northerners from other parts of Ivory Coast, and some of their fighters are foreigners from shared ethnic groups. They often dominate rebels from the local ethnic Yacouba group. Few of the local fighters have arms.

MPIGO was initially founded to avenge the death of former ethnic Yacouba military leader Robert Guei. He was killed midday September 19th, 2002, in his pajamas in Abidjan, hours after the start of the rebellion.

But MPIGO commander Paul Kango says the outside rebels have taken control of his region. "Our cocoa farms, our forests, all of it, they are using it for whatever they want it because they just got the power, because they are in the arms," he said. "So, they just control the area now from the other people from the west."

One of the founders of MPIGO, Bertin Tieu, tells VOA, his movement has been marginalized and that civilians are suffering. "Our region today, our school problems, our health problems is a serious something today," he said. "Our parents in the bush they suffer to sell cocoa and coffee but they are not free to sell all those things."

He warned that, after the rebellion is over, there could be ethnic bloodletting between Yacoubas and outsiders. "Anything will happen in our region if the MPCI represent our movement always, anywhere, everywhere, anything will happen in our region after election," added Mr. Tieu. "The U.N. forces, those who represented the U.N. forces in Ivory Coast, will be responsible."

He says U.N. peacekeepers are not taking the split seriously. The two men who are now in Abidjan say they represent more than two-thousand fighters in the west.

At a recent news conference, a former close political advisor of top rebel leader Guillaume Soro said he was defecting, as well. Alongside him was a commander of the other western-based rebel movement, MJP.

Rebels accused the political advisor in question - another ethnic Yacouba, Togba Mamadou - of having been a spy.

Rebels refused to be recorded for this report. They said rebels know who their leaders are, and that they are well consolidated and that it happens that fringe groups seek their own publicity.

The defections come as a new prime minister is trying to form an all-inclusive government with a mandate to prepare disarmament and free and fair elections, before October 2006.