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Wounds still raw in west Ivory Coast


DAKAR — Ivorian government officials recently visiting displaced families in the west were met with hostile youth and wailing women — a reminder six months after election violence ended that wounds are still raw and reconciliation distant.

Four government ministers were in the west to prepare a visit by President Alassane Ouattara — his first there since taking power in April after months of violence. The region’s Guéré population largely backed his opponent, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

During the ministers’ October 4 stop at the Catholic mission site in Duékoué, Guéré women who lost their husbands in the fighting threw themselves to the ground bawling and youths hollered “Free Gbagbo!” and “We want Gbagbo!” when ministers tried to speak, people who were present told Irin.

Local leaders said they’ve received word that Ouattara’s visit to the west, originally set for mid-October, has been postponed. This was not confirmed with government sources.

Since the recent incident traditional leaders in Duékoué have held meetings appealing to local people to seize the opportunity of government officials’ visiting, to discuss grievances and possible solutions.

Thousands of Guéré are still living in tents at temporary sites, many having lost their homes and belongings during the conflict. Local Guéré say that to this day armed men affiliated with the fighters who helped bring Ouattara to power are still blocking access to local people’s homes and especially plantations.

Yro Alain Roger, who is among the displaced in Duékoué, said it makes no sense to talk about reconciliation in such conditions.

“Everyone’s talking about reconciliation, but not about disarmament. We are living in misery. People are full of anxiety. All we owned is now in the hands of foreigners —how can we reconcile?”

Most Guéré Irin spoke with are ready to accept Ouattara.

“He’s everyone’s president,” many said — and move on. Still, said traditional Guéré chief François Batahi, while it is important to engage with the new authorities, much remains to be done to create conditions for reconciliation, particularly an improvement in security.

“The one and only remedy to bring about reconciliation is disarmament,” said Batahi, echoing the words of other Guéré Irin interviewed. They say `dozos — traditional hunters long present in Ivory Coast who have been accused of atrocities in the post-election violence — are committing extortion and intimidating people trying to return to their land.

For decades people from other parts of Ivory Coast and from neighbouring countries have farmed Guéré-owned coffee and cocoa plantations.

In an October 11 briefing paper Oxfam, Danish Refugee Council and Care say: “The climate of fear and insecurity (in the west) is not conducive to sustainable returns.” Many displaced people they interviewed pointed to continued reprisals, harassment and a lack of judicial recourse. Many displaced people sense “that their security is not necessarily guaranteed”.

“Daniel” is a Burkinabé farmer whose family has lived and worked in the region for decades. He insists no one is blocking local Guéré from returning to their villages.

“I’m telling you, they are free to return; no one is threatening or bothering them. What you have here are people who stay just to continue receiving aid from NGOs.”

Whatever the impact of security concerns, many people living in tents in Duékoué have no home or crops to return to.

The NGOs in the briefing paper say: “What is clear is that people do not remain displaced because of a desire to take advantage of assistance available in camps”; families face “major gaps” in food, shelter and basic services in their villages of origin.

Displaced Guéré men said dozos and fighters with the then Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (Republican Forces of Ivory Coast) have mobile phone recordings of attacks against Guéré — including March killings in Duékoué’s neighbourhood known as Carréfour — and they play them to intimidate people.
A Guéré who requested anonymity said he was recently chased off his cocoa plantation by men dressed as dozos.

“There they are, armed. And they play this recording in front of you — you can hear someone shouting in Guéré: ‘Have mercy, please don’t kill me’. Then gunfire. What can you possibly do?”

An official with the human rights division of the UN Operation in Ivory Coast (Unoci) said Unoci had heard of such recordings and was looking into the matter.
Keï Dembélé Sidiki, also displaced, told Irin: “If Ouattara comes I’ll be glad. He’s everyone’s president.” He added: “But he must disarm the dozos.”

Keï, in his 30s, bears the name of a Malian who worked on the family plantation; while land disputes and intercommunal unrest have long been common in the region, there are cases of Guéré landowners and those who farm their land getting along very well for generations. Guéré people said they wonder whether there could ever again be such amicable relations.

The NGOs in their briefing paper express concern that part of the election violence’s fallout will be more land-related tensions.

“Ongoing land disputes in these areas have been exacerbated by the armed conflict, the resulting displacement, and now the return of displaced people. It is feared that the land disputes will multiply as more people return to their place of origin.”

About a quarter of a million people remain displaced throughout Ivory Coast as of the end September, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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