A group of allies of Ivory Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo, including at least one living in exile in neighboring Ghana, are behind a wave of attacks on security installations this year, the interior minister said Thursday.
Thirty-five people, a number of them soldiers, have been arrested for involvement in the "destabilization project," according to a statement released by Sidiki Diakite following a meeting of the National Security Council.
Francophone West Africa's biggest economy has been shaken by army mutinies, violent protests by former rebels, and a spate of attacks on prisons and police stations this year.
The attacks have raised fears over its long-term stability, more than six years after a prolonged crisis ended in a civil war that killed over 3,000, when Gbagbo refused to cede a 2010 election to current President Alassane Ouattara.
"Most of the people were already implicated in similar attacks around 2012 to 2014," Diakite said. "Arrested and imprisoned, they were freed in the spirit of political dialogue and reconciliation."
Previously, much of this year's violence has been blamed on disgruntled former members of the rebel group that helped Ouattara dislodge Gbagbo, but former fighters loyal to Gbagbo have been blamed for attacks in the past, including several that killed 10 soldiers in the commercial capital Abidjan in 2012, and other deadly attacks near the Liberian border in 2014.
Gbagbo was captured in April 2011 and is on trial before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, but many of his allies have been pardoned.
"It is clear that the clemency offered them with a view to peace and reconciliation was not understood by them, and so they continue to pose a threat," the minister said.
Ouattara has won praise for helping Ivory Coast recover from a decade of crisis to become Africa's fastest-growing economy, but thousands of weapons left over from the war are still in circulation and the army is crippled by internal divisions.
If Gbagbo's allies are behind recent attacks, Ivory Coast faces the prospect of instability from both them and the rebels they fought as it approaches what is likely to be a hotly contested election to choose Ouattara's successor in 2020.