Four Gbagbo officers return to I.Coast from exile


Four officers from former president Laurent Gbagbo’s military returned to Ivory Coast from exile in Ghana to a warm welcome from troops who helped oust him, in a sign the war-divided nation may be moving towards reconciliation.

Many troops, politicians and militia leaders who fled after Gbagbo was forced out ended up in Ghana. Ouattara last week gave them until July 31 to return or be pursued as deserters.

Gbagbo lost an election to Ouattara last November, but refused to step down and used his military and militia groups to crush dissent, Reuters reports.

That triggered a return to civil war, led by rebels who had seized the north of the country in 2002.

Among the returning soldiers on Friday was Colonel Konan Boniface, a senior military commander who stuck with Gbagbo even as Ouattara’s rebels entered Abidjan in April and most of Gbagbo’s regular forces defected or deserted.
“I’ve come back to take my place in the army and this is a definitive return,” Boniface told journalists at the military wing of Abidjan’s airport. “I’m very happy to be back.”

In seeking to reconcile a deeply divided nation, Ouattara has had to tread a fine line between pursuing Gbagbo’s top brass for alleged war crimes and forgiving others with close ties to him, but whose crimes were less serious.

He also faces the task of breaking up armed fiefdoms and incorporating former foes into disciplined units.

Ouattara named ex-rebel chief Soumaila Bakayoko armed forces commander this month. He was careful to choose a top former Gbagbo officer — General Deto Leto — to fill the deputy commander post.
“Our brothers who have come back have done so in order to participate in the reconstruction of our country,” said African integration minister Adama Bictogo at the air base.