Threats to quasi-state economy jeopardises Ivory Coast

The fragile political stability in Côte d’Ivoire is at significant risk of collapsing into armed conflict if the economic interests of various factions are threatened in the West African country, a group of United Nations experts warn.

In its midterm report to the Security Council, the Group of Experts on Côte d`Ivoire – divided since 2002 between the Government-held south and a northern area dominated by the rebel Forces Nouvelles – noted that quasi-private militias maintain control over natural resources in the north and exact rents from local businesses and the civilian population.

The UN News Centre adds the experts found that the north of the country is fractured into a series of politico-military commands which compete, sometimes violently, over natural resources and depend on the availability of foreign and local markets for the export of the resources, as well as relations with foreign suppliers to import fuel, vehicles and weapons.

Despite the arms embargo, a provision of the 2007 Ouagadougou Agreement signed by the Government and Forces Nouvelles, the report warned that the factions in the conflict remain heavily armed and ready to resume hostilities should the political situation deteriorate and their economic interests threatened.

“It is also imperative to avoid an escalation of verbal confrontation which would only divert attention from the issues that real concern Ivorians,” UNOCI spokesperson Hamadoun Touré told journalists in Abidjan.

In response to a question on the call by elements of the Forces Nouvelles for the Prime Minister to resign, Touré said that it was an internal matter and underscored the importance of the institutional framework established by the Ouagadougou Political Agreement. “We are counting on this system, otherwise we are going to find ourselves in situations which could be beyond our control and take us back.”

He noted that there are urgent challenges to overcome in order to organize open, free, fair and democratic elections as soon as possible.

After a meeting with the West-African nation`s Prime Minister, YJ Choi, head of UNOCI, told correspondents that there is now peace and stability in the country, with commercial activity in the south, north and west, and the identification and voter registration operation making strides.

However, he said, there have been delays in the electoral process, which now lacks a timetable, along with slow implementation of the latest addendums to the Ouagadougou Political Agreement, especially with regards to the transfer of authority, the centralization of the treasury and the redeployment of the administration in the north.

Earlier, the spokesman had announced that Choi, who is also the Special Representative of Secretary-General for Côte d`Ivoire, would be presenting the Secretary-General`s latest report on the country to the Security Council on 28 April.