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Crisis Group Says Ivory Coast at Risk of War - 2004-07-13


The International Crisis Group warns political chaos in Ivory Coast could flare up into an armed conflict and spread throughout the region unless the international community helps end the country's political crisis. The report portrays Ivory Coast as a haven for criminal gangs making a fortune running the country for their own benefit.

The report is harshly critical of Ivory Coast political leaders' failure to implement the 18-month-old peace agreement.

An analyst with the International Crisis Group, Stephen Ellis, goes further and accuses Ivory Coast leaders of profiteering from the political crisis.

"They have to want to do it and they're not doing that and one of the reasons they're not doing it is because a lot of the key political leaders are actually making money out of the present situation," he said. "In the end, the politicians are more concerned about who gets which monies than they are about the political health of their country."

The report says the political uncertainty in Ivory Coast has become very lucrative for almost everyone except the ordinary people. It says the political elite, the security forces and militias of all political stripes have created criminal networks skimming money from state coffers, cocoa trade, port operations and military roadblocks.

Government supporters have demanded disarmament of the rebels, known as the New Forces, who control the northern half of the country. But Mr. Ellis says the government itself must show signs of wanting the peace accord implemented.

"The Forces Nouvelles obviously must disarm before the country can proceed to some sort of effective reunification but I don't think it's reasonable to expect the Forces Nouvelles to disarm in the first instance," he said. "It's the one really, really important card that they've got, is their possession of weapons. And, what we're recommending is that the government has to show a seriousness that it's never shown before by implementing one or two key reforms specified in the Linas-Marcoussis, particularly concerning the elections which are supposed to be held next year such as eligibility for the presidency, eligibility for voting and so on."

A presidential spokesman, Sery Bahi, says the question of national identity for northerners is being addressed.

"Things have been moving forward with regard to the Marcoussis peace accord and even today the minister of justice will meet with parliament to discuss the question of identity, so entitlement to the Ivorian nationality. So things are moving, maybe not as fast as we could have hoped for but things are moving fine," he said.

The report also calls for disarmament of the more than 100,000 pro-government militants known as Young Patriots. Mr. Bahi says the youth militias are not armed.

"I agree with the report that now is the time is for disarmament so the country can be reunited and we can work toward good elections in 2005. But what we would disagree with is that the mention that the Young Patriots should be disarmed," said Mr. Bahi. "The Young Patriots have never been armed. Their action has been very strong in words, sometimes, but they've never, never carried any weapons whatsoever against anybody here."

A third round of peace talks on Ivory Coast is scheduled to take place in the Ghanaian capital Accra on July 29.