Former rebel named new Ivorian military chief

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Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara has named former rebel military commander General Soumaila Bakayoko as the head of the country’s newly integrated armed forces, the defence ministry said yesterday.

His deputy will be General Deto Leto, who was head of the land forces under former president Laurent Gbagbo, a statement said.

The nominations are a significant step in Ouattara’s efforts to restore stability and promote reconciliation in the top cocoa grower, which was torn apart by months of conflict after Gbagbo refused to concede to Ouattara following a November election.

In the reshuffle, General Michel Gueu, a former rebel, becomes Ouattara’s military adviser. But the heads of the land forces, gendarmerie and the police force go to men who served under Gbagbo.

The post-election dispute lasted over four months, with more than 3,000 lives lost and around a million fleeing their homes to avoid inter-ethnic violence in a country which since an earlier civil war in 2002-2003 had been divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south.

Healing wounds between the two sides in the power struggle, as well as factions within the former rebel camp, will be one of Ouattara’s biggest challenges as he seeks to stabilise one of West Africa’s biggest economies.