Côte d’Ivoire: “The War Is Not Yet Over”

(Press Release Issued by the International Crisis Group)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 4, 2003

Freetown/Brussels, 28 November 2003: There are ominous signs that the Côte d'Ivoire peace process initiated in January 2003 has broken down. If the country goes back to war, it could well take all West Africa with it, endangering even recent progress in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The International Crisis Group’s latest report, Côte d'Ivoire: The War Is Not Yet Over, examines the fragile equilibrium of neither peace nor war in the country and argues that the international community that has endorsed the peace accords brokered by France (the Linas-Marcoussis Accords) should take a greater interest in their implementation. The immediate need is to press President Gbagbo to welcome back into the “Reconciliation Government” ministers from the rebel groups who walked out in September to protest the president’s unilateral measures.

“The Security Council needs to take a leading role in the peace process”, says Stephen Ellis, Director of the ICG Africa Program. “The UN presence must be upgraded to a full peacekeeping mission that subsumes 1,400 West African troops under the umbrella of an expanded operation and steps up cooperation with the ongoing UN peace operation in Liberia”.

After a year of civil war interspersed with precarious ceasefires, the governmental crisis threatens to destroy the only blueprint for peace that exists. Hardliners in President Gbagbo’s FPI and his youth supporters, as well as “left out” rebel leaders can still mobilise support against the political process. A fresh outbreak of hostilities is being talked about openly by all sides.

The peace accords implicitly condemn the ultra nationalism of Gbagbo and his party. Yet, they have also legitimated a rebellion while failing to address the conflict’s regionalisation. The central challenge is to find a compromise between parties that still think like enemies so that the reconciliation process can bring the country safely to elections in 2005.

What makes the need most urgent are ties between Ivorian troubles and those in neighbouring countries, which have meddled in the conflict just as President Gbagbo and his foes have been intimately involved in their difficulties. Armed bands, recruited for the Ivorian conflict or left over from previous wars, will continue to be a grave source of regional insecurity unless a comprehensive disarmament program is carried out. Urgent measures are needed to prevent Ivorian militias from being incorporated into Liberian militias lest those two conflicts continue to feed each other.

While the French peacekeepers can do much that is needed on the ground, they are held back by Ivorian suspicions of the former colonial power. France needs more encouragement, particularly from the U.S. and the Security Council, to increase protection of civilians, and the international community also needs to help the ECOWAS peacekeepers so they can do more.

“It should be made clear to the armed groups and their supporters, including the leaders of Burkina Faso and Guinea, that they risk prosecution for war crimes if they engage in further ethnic killing or disruption of peace processes”, says Comfort Ero, West Africa Project Director at ICG.

Click the links below for the full report:
Côte d’Ivoire: “The War Is Not Yet Over”