Ivorian leader orders warlord to lay down arms

AP News
Posted: Apr 22, 2011 7:04 PM
Ivorian leader orders warlord to lay down arms

President Alassane Ouattara on Friday ordered a renegade warlord who led two coups in the Ivory Coast to lay down his arms or be forcibly disarmed.

In a hard-hitting statement in his role as commander in chief of the armed forces, Ouattara sought Friday to resolve the biggest challenge to confront his fledgling government since the April 11 arrest of the West African nation's disgraced former strongman.

He also said all combat units "must get back to their barracks" _ the former rebel forces who installed him in power to their stronghold in the central city of Bouake and troops who fought for former President Laurent Gbagbo to their old military camps.

He said that regular and paramilitary police will be redeployed to take over security.

All groups in a bloody four-month electoral conflict are accused of killing civilians, looting, burning homes and extorting money.

Ouattara spoke at a meeting with commanders of the former rebel forces and generals of the defeated army, which are to be trained to form a united national army.

When the former rebels first began a lightning assault that brought them from Bouake and the west to the gates of Abidjan within days, mostly because Gbagbo's troops retreated without a fight and deserted in their thousands, Ouattara tried to distance himself from the combatants fighting in his name who also have been accused of atrocities.

But when his pleas for an international intervention to force Gbagbo from power went unheeded, he adopted them as his forces and now calls them the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, or FRCI by the French initials.

It was unclear whether self-styled Gen. Ibrahim "IB" Coulibaly, who began the battle against Gbagbo's troops and militia in Abidjan, would be invited to join the army, though he has said that that is his wish.

"I ask all the militia leaders and Commander Ibrahim Coulibaly to lay down their arms," Ouattara told the commanders and generals. "If that does not happen, your role will be to disarm them by force."

"Combat units must get back to their barracks," he added.

The only top-ranking officer absent was Gen. Bruno Dogbo Ble, head of Gbagbo's elite Republican Guard, who was arrested a week ago. His was the only unit to remain steadfastly loyal to Gbagbo, fighting fiercely in the battle for Abidjan.

Ouattara's orders come two days after the former rebels attacked Coulibaly's Invisible Commando force in his stronghold in the poor neighborhood of Abobo, but were repulsed. Also Wednesday, former rebel forces turned their guns on each other in the southwest cocoa port of San Pedro, forcing U.N. peacekeepers to intervene when they started launching rockets and mortars in the city's downtown area.

Also Friday, soldiers dragged away Gbagbo's powerful party leader, even though he was in a hotel protected by U.N. peacekeepers.

Government spokeswoman Ahoussy Bamba said she had no information about what had happened to former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan.

A half a dozen armed men in military uniforms came to the Pergola Hotel on Friday night and broke down the door to Affi N'Guessan's suite. An AP journalist watched as they took him away. He had been hit about the head.

Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa producer and second largest coffee grower, had been divided between a rebel-held north and government-run south since Coulibaly launched a rebellion in 2002.

Infighting among the rebels forced Coulibaly into exile until his Invisible Commando mysteriously emerged in Abidjan this year. Those battles were won by Guillaume Soro, now Ouattara's prime minister and minister of defense, who remains a bitter rival of Coulibaly.

Nov. 28 elections were supposed to reunite the country. But the intransigent Gbagbo, who had ruled from 2000 and repeatedly delayed elections, refused to accept his defeat and took a final stand in Abidjan. It is the country's biggest city and the commercial capital where about a third of the population of 15 million lives.

Whether the former rebels and Coulibaly's rogue force obey orders from Ouattara, a technocrat who was the deputy chief of the International Monetary Fund, remains to be seen. Gen. Philippe Mangou, the former chief of staff of Gbagbo's army, told reporters that he will follow the orders.

Analyst Richard Moncrieff of the South African Institute for International Affairs warned earlier this week that "Ouattara does not have command and control over the troops who entered Abidjan around a month ago, still less those who pushed Gbagbo's forces out of the west of the country in February and March.

"This could have serious repercussions for what is to come."

Coulibaly could not be reached by telephone for comment. Earlier Friday, he told The Associated Press that he is ready to join the new army and pay allegiance to Ouattara, whose wife he guarded as head of her bodyguard corps from 1990 to 1993, when he was an army chief sergeant and Ouattara was prime minister.

Coulibaly said he considers Ouattara as a father and the first lady, Frenchwoman Dominique Ouattara, a mother.

But he made clear his enmity for Soro, saying "Let him (Soro) dream on" when the AP asked him about a comment from a Soro aide who said Coulibaly was "outside the law," acting illegally.

While many of the roadblocks set up on highways and streets throughout the city had disappeared overnight Thursday, Coulibaly's commandos continue to man their barricades and demand money in their stronghold in the poor neighborhood of Abobo. Abobo suffered the worst in the battle for Abidjan, when Gbagbo's troops fired rockets and shells into its shacks and working-class homes.

Many residents there consider Coulibaly a savior who ended the slaughter.

Both Ivory Coast and France, the former colonial power, have issued international arrest warrants against Coulibaly, who was one of the leaders of a December 1999 coup that brought Gen. Robert Guei to power.

Coulibaly 47, was convicted in his absence by a French court for recruiting mercenaries in France and plotting a failed 2003 coup to oust Gbagbo. At the time, Coulibaly said the case was a plot to prevent him from running in presidential elections Gbagbo called for 2008, then delayed.

He told the AP that he has 5,000 men under his command. But the number appears under 1,000 from AP assessments at his Abobo headquarters and a college there where his commanders are training recruits.