UN warns of lingering threats to stability

Nearly one year on from the signing of a peace accord widely deemed the last, best chance for Cote d’Ivoire, “systemic factors of instability” continue to threaten peace efforts, according to the UN, which has extended the mandates of UN and French forces in the country.

The UN Security Council on 15 January voted unanimously to keep the UN mission (UNOCI) and international forces in Cote d’Ivoire until 30 July 2008, to support the organisation of “free, open, fair and transparent elections”.

In a 2 January report on progress in Cote d’Ivoire, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called current plans by Ivorian leaders to hold elections by June 2008 “very ambitious” and said such a timeline requires parties to the conflict and international partners to “redouble their efforts”.

Noting that the UN will not organise the elections but will “assume a supporting role”, the Secretary-General said: “Progress thus depends on the will and determination of the Ivorian leaders.”

Following the 2002 rebellion that split Cote d’Ivoire in two, Ivorian and international leaders have said that successful elections are indispensable for a return to peace. But political leaders have pledged to hold elections and failed several times as numerous peace deals have collapsed.

A number of steps must be completed before proper elections can take place, including a vast operation to provide identity papers to undocumented Ivorians and the establishment and certification of new electoral lists.

A diplomat in the commercial capital Abidjan, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IRIN that Ivorian officials acknowledge privately that June is too ambitious. “They are setting that as a target so that elections might be held in 2008.”

In addition to electoral hurdles, the country has yet to resolve how former rebels will be integrated into the national armed forces. And in many areas, while administration officials have returned to their posts, rebel leaders continue to reign.

The Secretary-General’s report stated: “While [former rebel] commanders have expressed a willingness to transfer their administrative and financial authority to the administrators redeployed in the areas under their control, as long as their command structures remain intact, the existence of such parallel authority structures may create unnecessary tensions.”

Destabilising factors – notably a lack of progress in unifying armed forces and disarming militias – “continue to represent a potential threat to the future of the peace process”, the report said.

Jean-Louis Billon, president of the Ivorian Chamber of Commerce – who in July appealed to the government to eradicate human rights violations at the country’s ubiquitous roadblocks – said Cote d’Ivoire’s crisis is far from over.

“It’s good to have these peace accords, which can give hope of an eventual resolution,” he told IRIN from Abidjan. “But in practical terms so much has yet to be done.” He cited the lack of progress on disarmament and continued human rights violations.

“Far from subsiding [since mid-2007], human rights violations at roadblocks have only worsened,” he said.

The Secretary-General expressed concern about continued human rights abuses “inflicted on civilians by defence and security forces and elements of the [former rebel] Forces Nouvelles”. His report added that during recent months, “a surge in crime in urban areas and along highways undermined the right of civilians to security and freedom of movement.”

He also said, “The prevalence of sexual violence against children, particularly girls, is a serious concern,” noting that the UN is working with the government on a “national plan” to combat sexual violence and violence against women.

The Security Council resolution is the first since the 20 November arrival in Cote d’Ivoire of the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Choi Young-Jin.

The resolution underscores that the UN will certify all stages of the electoral process – an issue that raised concerns among opposition parties when the UN last year eliminated the post of special UN elections monitor.

The Security Council has called on the Secretary-General to provide no later than 15 April 2008 a report on elections preparations.

As of 24 December UNOCI had 8,033 military personnel – 7,747 troops, 195 military observers and 91 staff officers.

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