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COTE D’IVOIRE: Challenge of Restoring Security

Fulgence Zamblé

ABIDJAN, Jun 9 2011 (IPS) - In a shelter covered by a tattered blue tarpaulin, Ibrahim Traoré sits beside his militia commander to hear complaints from residents of the Abidjan neighbourhood of Abobo-Avocatier.

“We get between 10 and 15 complaints a day,” Traoré told IPS, “from people who have been attacked in their homes or in the street by armed men. The problem is that wearing combat fatigues and carrying a weapon has become commonplace, so it’s difficult to distinguish between a thug and one of our own. So we are accused every time there is an incident.”

Traoré is a member of the Republican Forces – a coalition of armed groups known by its French acronym, FRCI – which backed Alassane Ouattara in his struggle for power against former president Laurent Gbagbo following disputed elections in November 2010. The FRCI swept south through the country in late March and April to seize Abidjan, the economic capital; since then, elements of the FRCI have been visible patrolling many neighbourhoods.

At the end of May, Joseph Akichi, a retired teacher in Abobo, was visited twice by armed men in uniform. “The first time, they took my savings of 300,000 francs CFA (around 600 dollars). The second time, they took everything, even the furniture,” he told IPS.

“With the police station being closed, I came here each time to explain my problems, but I’ve got nothing to show for it,” said Akichi, still fearful at the prospect that his assailants will return.

In Marcory, in the southern part of the city, Fabrice Mensah, who runs a business selling auto parts, the victim of a hold-up on May 26, during which armed men took away three of his company’s vehicles. The uniformed bandits returned two days later, and this time made off with eight million FCFA – 40,000 dollars – intended to pay his 15 employees.

“I opened my shop again three weeks after the post-election crisis was resolved. There were encouraging signs, so I wasn’t expecting to suffer a blow like this so quickly,” Mensah said. Following his misfortune, the 35-year-old says, he and other businesses in the area have decided to close again, temporarily laying off their employees while they wait for an improvement in the security situation.

Traoré condemns the attacks. “There are many fighters who are still out of control,” he says, “and the climate of insecurity that they create could get worse if the process of bringing them into barracks and disarming them continues to lag.”

He told IPS that he and his fellow FRCI fighters are waiting to be integrated into the new army. “They’ll have to offer a payout to combatants before they’ll give up their weapons and military equipment.”

The Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara, formed his first government – comprising 36 members – on Jun. 1. One of its principal tasks, he said, is to improve security in the country over the next few weeks and to restore confidence among business owners, which suffered greatly during the crisis. The Business Confederation of Côte d’Ivoire estimated losses to the private sector during the post-election crisis at around two billion dollars.

But nearly two months after Gbagbo’s surrender on Apr. 11, restoring security remains a challenge, even in the medium term, say observers.

“We have entered the most delicate phase after the crisis, because many indviduals – combatants as well as prisoners freed during the conflict – have light arms or heavy weapons and are using them against the population,” said Armand Obou Kessié, a former police officer, now an expert in security in private practice.

The country has still not returned to stability; in many cities, including Abidjan, police stations are still occupied by elements of the FRCI, he told IPS.

“Where the FRCI combatants have allowed the return of security agents to their offices, they refuse to allow them to go out into the field (alongside the millitia) on patrol. Yet, without training in security and maintaining public order, the fighters are not suited to this task and frequently commit abuses,” says Kessié.

But a combatant called Commandant Soum told IPS: “For the moment, the police and gendarmes have not completely returned to work; so we are doing it with our own forces. After the registration of combatants (in the new army), we will hand over to them…”

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