Ivory Coast has so far deployed less than a fifth of the 8,000 troops needed to secure its first presidential election in a decade this weekend, the army chief of staff acknowledged.
The army has just two days to complete the deployment by a target date of Friday but General Philippe Mangou insisted security forces had taken adequate measures to ensure voting would be peaceful in the world’s top cocoa grower.
“We estimated that 8,000 people are needed to secure this election. I can’t give the exact figure but we have deployed around 1,500 so far,” Mangou told reporters at his headquarters in the commercial capital Abidjan, Reuters reports.
Ivorians will vote on Sunday in a poll aimed at ending years of turmoil and political limbo after a 2002-3 civil war that divided the country in two, leaving the north and far west in the hands of rebels.
The contest between President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition challengers Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara is likely to be close, with opinion polls pointing to Gbagbo going into a second-round run-off as front-runner.
The election will be secured by a mixed force comprising the Ivorian military and ex-rebels. Another 8,000 U.N. peacekeepers are also on the ground and a French rapid reaction force of a few hundred soldiers is also in place in case trouble starts.
While the run-up to the poll has been generally peaceful, scuffles between rival candidates’ supporters broke out in some towns over the weekend, leaving some injured.
“As the date of October 31 draws near, violence has taken hold of some political party activists,” said Mangou. “The security forces inform them that measures have been taken … to ensure voters will vote without fear of physical threat.”
“The security forces in Ivory Coast are warning those who choose unrest and violence against any attempt to flee the country … the borders and the airport will be closed,” Mangou said.
The poll has been delayed since 2005 because of wrangling over voter identity and rebel disarmament, issues that have now largely been resolved.