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UN Peacekeepers Injured in Ivory Coast Protest - 2004-10-07


Three United Nations peacekeepers in Ivory Coast have been injured during a protest against scheduled disarmament in the rebel-held north.

Three Moroccan peacekeepers were slightly injured as thousands of angry Bouake civilians threw rocks and cut through barbed wire around their base during Thursday's protest.

A local journalist, Lassina Serme, said the protest seemed spontaneous. "Today, we say 20,000 people on the streets of Bouake. The United [Nations] soldiers have been surprised by this behavior," he said. "The people living in Bouake in the rebel [headquarters] disagree with disarmament which must begin the 15th of October."

A spokesman for rebel political leader Guillaume Soro, Kone Souleymane, says civilians are tired of seeing an increased presence of U.N. tanks even though the area is secure. Mr. Souleymane said the tanks should be in the government-held south where racketeering at police checkpoints, raids in poor neighborhoods and extrajudicial killings of perceived rebel sympathizers are increasing.

He also says civilians do not understand why disarmament should begin October 15 even though other parts of the Ivory Coast peace deal remain stalled in Parliament. These would give equal rights to many northerners now treated as second-class citizens.

Thursday's demonstration followed confirmation in the capital, Yamoussoukro, from the Ivorian army, rebel fighters, French rapid reaction forces and United Nations peacekeepers that the disarmament process will begin the 15th.

While the military sides in the conflict have been working towards peace, the political factions have been unable to make progress.

Lawmakers from President Laurent Gbagbo's party have repeatedly refused to accept reforms as they were signed in successive French, African and U.N.-brokered peace deals.

Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer, has been split in two since the start of the insurgency in September 2002.