Major donors to Ivory Coast are in talks with President Alassane Ouattara to urge him to draft a plan for badly needed reforms to his security forces, and turn an undisciplined mix of soldiers and former rebels into a professional force.
A Western diplomat involved in the talks told Reuters donors want to see Ouattara move more quickly to integrate some of the armed elements left over from its decade of civil war and crisis into disciplined units — then disarm and demobilise the rest.
Insecurity remains a headache for Ouattara six months after he ousted former President Laurent Gbagbo with French help, ending a conflict that killed at least 3,000 people, Reuters reports.
Gbagbo’s refusal to step down despite losing an election to Ouattara in November reignited the country’s civil war.
Authorities arrested 21 gendarmes, or paramilitary police, and seized stocks of weapons after an attack on Abidjan’s Agban gendarme base early on Saturday triggered an hour-long gun battle.
Also over the weekend, the joint head of Ouattara’s presidential guard, former rebel leader Sherif Ousman, survived a gun attack on his convoy from unknown assailants as he drove through former rebel-held territory in the north.
Diplomats from former colonial master France — which has maintained a military base in Abidjan — Britain, the United States, European Union and United Nations met with Ouattara on Monday, but denied there was any link to either attack.
“The United States led the delegation … It was an opportunity to discuss our concerns and needs with Ouattara regarding security sector reform,” the diplomat said, requesting not to be named.
“We want to see the reform process move ahead. For us, the reform of the armed forces is crucial to the stability of Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).”
He added donors were pressing Ouattara to cut the number of officers and suggesting the 20,000-strong armed forces may be double what the country really needs.
Neither the Ivorian government nor the army were immediately available for comment.
“It’s about creating one armed force and looking at the various security agencies, the republican guard, the secret services and asking: what is absolutely needed for the country’s security?” the diplomat said.
“Until there’s a single armed force with a single ethos, you’ve got the risk of renegade elements trying something.”
Security has dramatically improved in the West African state since Gbagbo’s ouster, but it remains fragile, with gunmen of various loyalties jostling for position and occasionally fighting.
Armed robberies, extra-judicial killings and in-fighting between former rebel factions, all fed by a flood of weapons still in circulation, have marred Ivory Coast’s otherwise impressive post-war recovery.
There remain up to 3,000 of Gbagbo’s hardline republican guard troops unaccounted for after the fighting, and they are seen as still a potential threat, said the diplomat.
But cutting back on officers is difficult for Ouattara because many are former rebels who helped get him in to power when Gbagbo refused to stand down.
“We’re pressing him (Ouattara) for his vision for the armed forces and to set up an organisation with the powers to say to the various ministries: you must do this,” the diplomat said.