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COTE D'IVOIRE: Military build-up in west following attacks

ABIDJAN, 23 September 2011 (IRIN) - Peacekeepers with the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), French Licorne military forces, and the national army Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), are building up their military presence in western Côte d’Ivoire to try to better secure the region following attacks in the villages of Ziriglo and Nigré, which killed 23 people on the 15 September, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Ivoirian government has accused “Liberian mercenaries” of carrying out the attacks, which took place 25km south of the Ivoirian town of Taï, near the Liberian border.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch, the perpetrators appeared to be members of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo’s militia, while the victims appeared to be Ivoirians from elsewhere and West Africans perceived to have supported President Alassane Ouattara.

Immediately following the incident, UNOCI dispatched ground forces and attack helicopters to the site, said UNOCI military spokesperson Chakib Rais. UN peacekeepers and Licorne forces have stepped up their patrols in the area, and are trying to work more closely with the FRCI, and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Two of the eight new peacekeeper camps UNOCI announced in June it was to open in the west are complete: Tabou and Zuenoula, and the remaining six are “70 percent” there, according to Rais.

FRCI has also increased the number of troops in the region, according to spokesperson Mara Lacina, and plans to deploy 600 soldiers along the 700km border. “We face a very porous border which makes the situation very difficult,” he said. “There are informal crossings in the form of small roads near villages or in the forest, all along the length of the border,” he said.

Some 173,000 Ivoirians, mainly from the west, fled to Liberia during and following the post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire. Many of those who remained in Côte d’Ivoire and who are perceived to have supported ex-President Laurent Gbagbo, fear the new national army.

Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi would not comment on government operations in the area.

Representatives of UNOCI, FRCI and Licorne met on 23 September to try to develop short and medium-term security plans for the west, according to UNOCI spokesperson Kenneth Blackman.

At least 1,000 people were killed in western Côte d’Ivoire during post-election violence, according to the UN.

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Theme (s): Conflict, Refugees/IDPs, Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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