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COTE D'IVOIRE: Former pro-Ouattara rebels still need reining in

ABIDJAN, 30 December 2011 (IRIN) - Eight months after President Allassane Ouattara assumed office at the end of a prolonged civil conflict, peace remains fragile amid abuses and killings by former rebel fighters who once provided him support.

Ten civilians were killed and about 15 wounded this month in fighting between the former rebels, which now form part of the national army, and civilians in Vavoua, west-central Cote d’Ivoire, and in Sikensi in the south.

In a statement on 29 December, the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) called on the government to stop the violence. “UNOCI encourages the Ivorian authorities to implement the tough measures they announced and to strengthen discipline" within the Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI), UNOCI spokesman Hamadoun Touré said.

He said UNOCI remained concerned about the “numerous violations of human rights attributed to FRCI in several parts of the country which have led to the reactions by residents of the affected communities.” He cited cases of arbitrary arrest and illegal detention in Abidjan, the commercial capital.

Adding to this, Ivoirian Human Rights League President René Legré said: "We note that despite the promises to ensure security, there has been no progress. People are still armed.”

He said the unrestrained behaviour by FRCI soldiers was beginning to anger the public, which would defend itself.

"We fear that the day will come when people will no longer respect the army,” he added.

Following the Vavoua incident, Ouattara ordered the soldiers to return to barracks but they refused.

In Abidjan, the former fighters have swapped their uniforms for civilian clothes, while keeping their guns and still occupying some police stations. This was true in the Ouattara party stronghold of Abobo, a commune 8.7km northwest of Abidjan.

Gendarmes and police have been deployed to the country’s interior, but unarmed, and they have had to work under the authority of the warlords who settled in those areas when other pro-Ouattara forces advanced on the south from the north in March.

“State impotence”

"We do not know whom to trust in these circumstances,” said Kady Kouyaté, a health worker in the western town of Gagnoa. “Those who have been training to provide security do not have the tools. Meanwhile, those who have weapons, rather than reassuring us, have become our tormentors."

She said over a two-month period armed people in military uniform had attacked her and colleagues.

Describing the government’s response to the insecurity as “state impotence”, Legré said many soldiers in villages and towns which his team had inspected appeared to be taking orders from outside the official military structure. Moreover, he quoted solders as saying that since the government was not paying them salaries, they would pay themselves by abusing the public.

"When they face an obstacle, they do not hesitate to use their guns," Legré added. He said ex-rebel combatants within the military should be quickly identified and disarmed since they were unfit to bear arms.

However, Diarrassouba Lamine, president of the Convention of Free Associations and Organizations of Civil Society in Côte d'Ivoire, said more extensive measures were need.

"You have to identify the causes of the clashes and think about the army generals. Because there may still be areas of tension wherever the army goes, the ongoing peace process could take a hit,” Diarrassouba said.

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Watch: In Search of Stability an IRIN film examining the prospects for peace and justice in Côte d'Ivoire

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Human Rights, Security,

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

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