By Joe Bavier
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ghana told a U.N. panel in July that Ivory Coast sent hit squads earlier this year to attempt to abduct or kill exiled supporters of ex-Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, the panel's report has revealed.
Relations between the neighbors soured when thousands of Ivorians fled across the border during a 2011 civil war sparked by Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat in an election in late 2010 to rival Alassane Ouattara, the current president.
Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court for suspected crimes against humanity during the war in which around 3,000 people died.
A number of Gbagbo's top military and government officials are among the refugees living in Ghana. Ouattara's government and U.N. investigators accuse them of continuing to orchestrate violence inside Ivory Coast.
Ghanaian officials on July 10 told the U.N. panel, which monitors compliance with Liberia's sanctions regime, that Ivory Coast sent "agents intending to assassinate or kidnap militant pro-Gbagbo refugees".
"The Ghanaian authorities claimed to have foiled at least two such missions in early 2013," the experts wrote in a report to the U.N. Security Council, released on a U.N. website at the weekend.
The accusations could not be independently verified, the panel wrote. Ouattara's government denied the charges.
"Do you really think that we would have failed if we'd wanted to do this?" Ivorian government spokesman Bruno Kone said on Monday, noting that the U.N. panel said it could not verify the information from the Ghanaian government.
Ghana's Foreign Minister Hannah Tetteh declined to comment on the accusations in the U.N. report and said: "Our relationship with Ivory Coast is fine."
MERCENARIES BOUGHT OFF
Justin Kone Katinan, budget minister in Gbagbo's government, said emissaries from Ivory Coast twice tried to kidnap him - in August and September 2012 - in Accra where he lives.
On one occasion, agents tried to bundle him onto a plane heading for Ivory Coast and only the intervention of Ghanaian authorities and his lawyer saved him, he told Reuters.
A Ghanaian court in August rejected an Ivorian request to extradite Katinan who was arrested one year before in Accra on an international warrant accusing him of masterminding the looting of banks in the Ivorian capital.
"They wanted to kidnap me. I would have been killed," he said, adding that another time agents tried to bundle him into their car in downtown Accra. His testimony could not be independently verified.
Ivory Coast and U.N. investigators blame the Gbagbo allies for a series of attacks late last year.
They also say the Ghana-based exiles hired Liberian mercenaries to raid villages in western Ivory Coast.
The U.N. report said an intelligence arm of the Ivorian Interior Ministry had countered this by paying off Liberian mercenary leaders, beginning in May, to gather information and stop the cross-border attacks.
Ivorian officials used a former official with Liberia's National Security Agency as an intermediary and did not notify Liberia's government of the payments to mercenaries including Isaac "Bob Marley" Chegbo and Augustine "Bush Dog" Vleyee, the report said.
Ivorian government spokesman Kone said no such payments had been made "officially at our level".
The U.N. panel said it did not consider the payments, which ranged from $2,000 to $8,000, a sustainable method for ensuring security along the Ivory Coast's border with Liberia.
(Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan and Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)