Peace threatened by feuding Ivory Coast warlords

AP News
Posted: Apr 25, 2011 8:19 PM
Peace threatened by feuding Ivory Coast warlords

Volleys of gunshots erupted again in Abidjan Monday as a years-old feud between rival warlords came to a head, threatening Ivory Coast's fragile peace.

It is unclear if technocrat President Alassane Ouattara can control any of the six warlords who helped install him in power by ousting former strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who is under arrest.

The latest fighting is between the two men who fomented the 2002 rebellion that divided the country between the rebel-held north and government-run south _ two-time coup plotter Ibrahim "IB" Coulibaly and Defense Minister Guillaume Soro, who also is prime minister.

Coulibaly's aides Monday accused Soro's camp of attacking their forces and plotting to assassinate their leader, in an ambush on the road to a supposed meeting with Ouattara.

In 2004, the two men waged bloody battles for leadership in the rebels' stronghold in the central city of Bouake. Soro won and Coulibaly was forced into exile. Now there are fears their feud could destabilize Abidjan, the commercial capital and the West African nation's biggest city where one-third of the 15 million people live, just as Ouattara has appealed for banks to reopen and everyone to return to work on Tuesday.

Ouattara on Friday declared the war for Abidjan ended with Gbagbo's arrest on April 11. He ordered Soro's combatants, who are to form the corps of a new army with former Gbagbo troops, to return to their barracks in the center and west of the country. And he ordered Coulibaly to disarm or expect to have his weapons taken by force.

Coulibaly's chief aide and spokesman, Felix Anoble, let loose a verbal tirade in an interview with The Associated Press, after he said an attack was launched on Monday against Coulibaly's forces. He also called for Ouattara to get rid of Soro.

"Nobody trusts Soro, and the president needs to understand that. Soro is a belligerent in the conflict ... He cannot become a victor if Ibrahim Coulibaly is left out in the cold," he said, adding that it was time for Ouattara to "create a proper government that does not include belligerents."

Soro could not be reached for comment though the AP has been requesting an interview with him daily for more than a week.

Ouattara himself may be in a quandary. Initially, he distanced himself from the rebels who were fighting in his name but also were accused of atrocities. But when his desperate pleas for an international military intervention to force Gbagbo from power went unheeded, he adopted the fighters that he now calls the Republican Forces of the Ivory Coast, or FRCI by the French acronym.

He inherited Soro as premier from the administration of Gbagbo. Soro became Gbagbo's prime minister when a peace agreement with rebels led to a unity government. But Soro denounced and abandoned the beleaguered strongman after Gbagbo's troops fired mortar shells and rockets on the people of Abidjan.

The Nov. 28 elections were supposed to reunite the country, but Gbagbo's stubborn refusal to accept his defeat precipitated the most recent violence in a country in conflict for a decade. It is not known how many thousands have been killed and wounded.

Anoble, Coulibaly's spokesman, indicated they believe Soro is using his current position to settle old scores and try to obliterate Coulibaly, a rival who has made no secret of his past presidential aspirations.

Soro's defense ministry spokesman announced on television Sunday night that Coulibaly had failed to turn up for a meeting with Soro. He said Soro was calling for Coulibaly's fighters to desert his ranks and immediately join the new army, or expect to be prosecuted.

Anoble said that an invitation to meet with Ouattara on Monday was a "rendezvous with death" because Soro's forces had massed heavy weapons and were supposedly hidden along the route that Coulibaly would have taken to the meeting.

"We get the impression that it is his very life that they want," Anoble said.

Anoble also said that they waited in vain for U.N. peacekeepers to escort Coulibaly to the meeting. "But the peacekeepers called to say they had received no authorization, and a colonel said that they feared they could not guarantee IB Coulibaly's security."

Anoble said he could not understand why Ouattara would not receive Coulibaly when he has received the generals of the defeated and disgraced army that turned heavy weapons on civilians as well as other enemies like the head of the constitutional court who defied U.N.-certified election results to declare Gbagbo the winner.

"If Coulibaly had not begun the rebellion in 2002, Alassane Ouattara would not be president today," he asserted.

Coulibaly, 47, has pledged his allegiance to Ouattara in an AP interview, saying he considers as a father the man whose French wife he guarded when he was an army chief sergeant and Ouattara was prime minister from 1990 to 1993.

Asked why he had not obeyed Ouattara's order to surrender his arms, Anoble said, "When you are threatened with death, you cannot dispose of the only thing that is protecting you ... How can he disarm?"

He said all players in Ivory Coast _ political and military _ are to blame for the bloody and destructive conflict, and called for peace.

"Ivory Coast needs peace. IB Coulibaly is a man of peace. He feels that one more shot fired is one shot too many," Anoble said. "Ivory Coast has suffered too much. Alassane Ouattara has suffered too much. Ibrahim Coulibaly has suffered too much. This fratricide must stop. There is nothing to justify a war between the troops of Soro and the troops of IB Coulibaly."

"We should all be making our mea culpas," he said.