Ivory Coast’s army chief of staff warned on Monday the military would be “merciless” with anyone stirring up trouble during a tense second round presidential election to take place at the weekend.
General Phillippe Mangou spoke at a ceremony for 2000 extra government soldiers who will be deployed across Ivory Coast for the election likely to be hotly disputed between President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition rival Alassane Ouattara.
“To all who are lurking in the shadows plotting against the peace, the armed forces of Ivory Coast would like to remind you that they will be merciless with anyone caught in the act of disruption, physical threat or public disturbance,” Mangou said. “They will feel the full force of the law.”
The election on Sunday is meant to end years of military and political stalemate that have taken the shine off what was once West Africa’s brightest economic prospect, since a 2002-3 war divided the country in two. The soldiers are additional to 8000 security forces drawn from mixed government and rebel forces controlling the north of the country. The rebels will also match the extra force with 2000 of their own, they say .
The first round passed off peacefully, putting Gbagbo in the lead with 38 percent of the vote against Ouattara’s 32 percent. But many fear violence could erupt between supporters of the two bitter foes if the result of a close second round is disputed, as it is likely to be. The world’s top cocoa grower has a history of trouble around election time and the rhetoric of both candidates has become increasingly nasty, with each accusing the other of being responsible for nearly a decade of war, political crisis and instability that hurt growth and sent foreign investors packing.
A military officer told Reuters on Friday all would be deployed in the rebel-held north, raising concerns of tensions with the former rebel fighters, most of whom back Ouattara, even though their leadership has agreed to the deployment. But Mangou said some of the soldiers would be deployed in government-controlled territory, such as in flashpoints in the west, alongside rebel forces who would for the first time deploy outside the territory they control.
The two forces are keeping security jointly on polling day, in theory under Mangou’s command.
“You will work in full discipline and make sure that no one carries out acts of violence against the voters,” Mangou told the troops at his headquarters in Abidjan, before they marched off to be deployed across the country.