Thousands continue to flee homes in Ivory Coast

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2012 1:10 PM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Thousands of people in Ivory Coast continue to flee their homes because of ongoing land conflicts and residual tension from last year's postelection violence, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center said at least 24,000 people were displaced so far this year. An additional 40,000 to 80,000 are still displaced from the conflict, according to "conservative estimates" cited by the group.

The report was released on the two-year anniversary of the presidential runoff between ex-President Laurent Gbagbo and current President Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo's refusal to cede office despite losing the election sparked more than four months of conflict that claimed at least 3,000 lives. The conflict initially displaced up to 1 million people, the highest number of people to be displaced in all of 2011, according to the study.

Nearly 75 percent of those still displaced by the postelection violence are living in the country's volatile western region, which has continued to experience sporadic violence in the 17 months since the crisis ended. Pro-Gbagbo militias hiding across the border in Liberia have allegedly launched a series of cross-border raids dating back to July 2011. An attack in June killed eight U.N. peacekeepers and at least 10 civilians.

But the report notes that tensions over land in the west originated decades before the conflict. Beginning in the 1960s, the government encouraged internal migrants and West African immigrants to farm the region, which is fertile in cocoa, timber and coffee. The allocation of plots to newcomers created friction with those who felt they had lost their ancestral land.

"This has left a devastating legacy where local custom and written law often contradict each other when it comes to land ownership, leaving the whole system open to abuse," said Elizabeth Rushing, the monitoring center's West Africa analyst. "The post electoral violence further exacerbated tensions between different groups, as land left behind by those who fled the violence has since been occupied, rented or fraudulently sold by others in their absence."

The report also cites complaints that armed men have prevented displaced persons from accessing their land, sometimes imposing "arbitrary taxes on those wishing to return."

Ivorian officials involved in assisting displaced persons could not be reached Wednesday. The report said few government programs have targeted this group.

The monitoring center called for efforts to stave off future crises that might displace more Ivorians as well as to help those who are still displaced return to their land.

"For the vast majority of internally displaced people, who are reliant on their land to survive, these restrictions have devastating consequences," Rushing said, adding that "many simply do not have enough to feed their families."