/ 27 April 2011

Côte d’Ivoire opens Gbagbo probe, fighting erupts

Ivorian authorities have launched a criminal probe against former president Laurent Gbagbo and his entourage, a government spokesperson said, as sporadic fighting broke out in parts of the main city, Abidjan.

Government spokesperson Patrick Achi said Gbagbo, his wife and 100 other people in his inner circle were being investigated for human rights abuses after Gbagbo used the army to cling to power after losing last November’s election to Alassane Ouattara.

Ouattara finally took control of the world’s top cocoa-growing nation earlier this month when his forces, backed by French and United Nations soldiers, captured Gbagbo after days of heavy fighting in Abidjan.

“A preliminary investigation has been opened against Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and his entourage,” Achi said. “I cannot say what the main charges are. That is the task of the courts.”

The treatment of Gbagbo will test Ouattara’s ability to deliver justice as well as reconciliation in a country that was torn apart by an election that had been meant to heal wounds from a 2002/3 war.

While much of the city has been calm since Gbagbo’s arrest, heavy weapons and automatic gunfire rang out in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Abobo on Wednesday as Ouattara’s forces attacked a rival insurgent group, a resident and a spokesperson for the group said.

“We are in the process of disarmament and we have asked our fighters to prepare to lay down their arms, and it is in this context that the FRCI [Ivorian army], who took positions around us yesterday, launched an offensive on our headquarters,” said a spokesperson for the insurgent group, Invisible Commando.

“We don’t understand this action by the FRCI,” he said.

Former rebels
An FRCI commander who asked not to be named confirmed they had attacked the Invisible Commando, saying the offensive was aimed at disarming the group.

The FRCI is mostly made up of former rebels from Côte d’Ivoire’s 2002/2003 civil war, and those fighters have had a longstanding rivalry with the Invisible Commando despite their shared opposition to Gbagbo.

A resident in Abobo said the fighting included heavy weapons and automatic gunfire, and said it began after what appeared to be a meeting between an FRCI general and Invisible Commando leader Ibrahim Coulibaly.

Gbagbo and his wife are currently being held in separate locations in northern Côte d’Ivoire, Ouattara’s stronghold from where his forces launched their attack on Abidjan in late March.

The post-election wrangle killed more than 1 500 and forced one million people from their homes in Abidjan alone.

The country’s cocoa trade and banking sector, which were shut down by the violence and international sanctions aimed at forcing Gbagbo from power peacefully, are set to resume within days.

But Ouattara is still struggling to snuff out resistance from remnants of pro-Gbagbo militia in parts of Abidjan and is also battling divisions within the ranks of the forces that sided with him to oust Gbagbo. — Reuters