Ivorian forces move to stamp out Gbagbo stronghold


Ivorian security forces have launched an offensive to stamp out remaining militia and mercenaries loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo who are holed up in an Abidjan neighbourhood, officials said.

Days of heavy fighting brought Alassane Ouattara to power last week, ending a four-month post-election wrangle, but the heavily populated neighbourhood of Yopougon remains awash with pro-Gbagbo fighters who retreated after a French and U.N.-backed assault led to Gbagbo’s arrest. “The Republican Forces have gone on the offensive,” a source in Ouattara’s government told Reuters on Wednesday.
“There are so many mercenaries there. They are robbing the population. Order has to be restored,” the official added. There was no official comment from Ouattara’s government but a diplomat confirmed the operation and a member of the security forces who was involved said “mopping up” was under way.

In the last few weeks of the crisis, Gbagbo’s camp handed weapons to youth supporters in Abidjan and has long been accused of using mercenaries to resist pressure to step down. Yopougon residents reported heavy fighting. “It is complicated. We have been hearing heavy explosions since yesterday,” Noel Deha told Reuters by telephone. “There are clashes between the Republican Forces and the young militia. They want to chase the militia out.”

The fighting in the western neighbourhood comes as residents in other parts of the city have cautiously started going about their daily lives after weeks of clashes in the top cocoa grower’s commercial capital. Ouattara won last November’s presidential election that Gbagbo also claimed to have won, sparking a power struggle that has crippled the economy as international sanctions bit and violence spread.

The European Union has lifted some sanctions, allowing some ships to return to the country’s ports. Patrick Achi, spokesman for Ouattara’s government, said officials from West Africa’s central bank would visit Abidjan on Wednesday to see when it could resume operations.

But it will take months for Ivory Coast to clear its backlog of between 450,000 and 500,000 tonnes of cocoa beans that are stockpiled. And Ouattara has the daunting task of rebuilding the security forces and reconciling a country even more divided by an election that was meant to heal existing rifts.

Well over 1,000 people were killed during the stand-off and more than a million others fled their homes. French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) reported a “dire” situation in the West of the country, where divisions between communities are the deepest and some of the worst atrocities are reported to have taken place.
“In western Ivory Coast, many people who fled violence dare not return home,” MSF said in a statement that detailed conditions in a camp for some 28,000 in the town of Duekoue.
“Living conditions in the camp are extremely harsh, with overcrowding, a lack of shelter, and short supplies of food and water … The pressure on the camp is enormous. The number of people sheltering there far surpasses its capacity, and more are continuing to arrive,” MSF said.