A renegade warlord in Ivory Coast said Saturday he was ready to lay down his arms as ordered by the new president, but said it would take time to organize.
In an interview with The Associated Press Saturday, Gen. Ibrahim "IB" Coulibaly said that one could not just dispose of arms in the streets. He spoke from his heavily armed stronghold within Abobo, a poor neighborhood in Ivory Coast's largest city Abidjan. He arrived at the interview in a three-car convoy, guarded by a missile launcher set up on the back of a pickup truck.
President Alassane Ouattara on Friday ordered Coulibaly, who led two coups in Ivory Coast and commands the Invisible Commando force, to lay down arms or be forcibly disarmed.
Ouattara also ordered all combat units 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.
Ouattara said that regular and paramilitary police will be redeployed to take over security.
"He said lay down your arms. We will lay down our arms. It is not a problem," said Coulibaly of Ouattara's order.
When asked why then he has so many arms around his stronghold, Coulibaly said: "You don't dispose of arms in the street. There has to be a strategy."
Coulibaly, who began the battle against Gbagbo's troops and militia in Abidjan, said he wants his forces to join the new army but is waiting to be invited.
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.
Ouattara tried to distance himself at first from the former rebels fighting in his name when they began a lightening assault that brought them from Bouake and the west to the gates of Abidjan within days. They had been accused of atrocities during the offensive.
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.
Ouattara's orders to disarm and return to barracks came two days after the former rebels attacked Coulibaly's Invisible Commando force in his stronghold in Abobo, but were repulsed.
Meanwhile on Saturday, thousands of people from the mainly Muslim quarters of Abobo cheered when a commander told them the war was over at a gathering called by forces backing Ouattara.
Cmdr. Sofi Dosso, leader of the traditional hunters who live in tropical rainforests, said his forces were "ready to help disarm those who disobey the president's commands."
Despite Ouattara's call to return to their barracks, Dosso and others still gathered in an area of Abobo near the town hall. Several fighters holding AK-47s were also in the crowd.
"The war is over," Dosso said. "We don't want to hear anymore gunshots in Abidjan."
All groups in a bloody four-month electoral conflict are accused of killing civilians, looting, burning homes and extorting money. On 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.
"We are ready to help disarm those who disobey the president's commands. But right now, we are needed here to help in the disarmament process because we know the many people who are holding arms illegally," Dosso said.
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.
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.