Ivory Coast: January 9, 2003


Rebel leader sergeant Felix Doh claimed that Ivorian government helicopter gunships attacked his forces at Grabo on the morning of 9 January. A French unit at Pont-Yaka (30 miles south of Grabo) confirmed fighting in the region, but said it was taking place at Olodio, a village 12 miles south of Grabo. 

The Ivory Coast's two western rebel groups - Doh's Popular Movement of Ivory Coast's Far West (MPIGO) and the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP) - had just signed a truce with French troops in Duekoue on the 8th and promised to attend peace talks scheduled to take place in Paris next week. However, both groups had also pointed out that they were not signing anything with the Ivorian government. After the attack, Doh said he still planned to attend the meeting and had dutifully reported it to the French army. 

The talks are due to start on the 15th and appear to be the only hope for ending the war, short of wholesale French retaliation. Former prime minister Alassane Ouattar's opposition party Rally of Republicans has been keeping a low profile, since all of its top leadership are in France. Meanwhile, President Gbagbo pleaded for peace in a 8 January newspaper interview and said he would even consider an amnesty for some of the rebel leadership. 

The French are particularly concerned with their expatriate community in the port city of San Pedro (368 km southwest of Abidjan) which has become the latest transit town for thousands of refugees. The city normally has 430,000 residents and it's local curfew was just extended, from 9 PM to 7 PM overnight to 6 AM. About 400,000 civilians have fled the central and northern regions towards the south, while an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 have left the western town of Man and sought refuge in towns like Daloa, Duekoue, Bouafle, Issia and others in the western region. Another 140,000 mainly west African migrants workers had crossed the border into Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Mali. The United Nations agencies in the commercial capital of Abidjan want to set up a civil-military cell in the city "as soon as funds are available".

While the Ivorian government claims that Burkina Faso masterminded the rebellion and that notoriously uncontrollable Liberian fighters are involved in the west, there is the lingering suspicion that someone outside of the immediate area is instigating the constant clashes. If so, the most likely suspect would be Libya. - Adam Geibel 


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