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Hiding Out In Abidjan

5 June 2011 5 June 2011 Tags: No Comment Print This Post Print This Post

This article appeared in IRIN

Outdoor restaurants in Yopougon, usually packed, are deserted. Photo: Alexis Adélé/IRIN

People from ethnic groups seen as pro-Laurent Gbagbo are hiding out, using aliases in public and fearing for their lives, amid attacks by government forces in the main city Abidjan, residents told IRIN.

“It is total and constant insecurity for people from ethnic groups seen as pro-Gbagbo,” said a young man calling himself Toupé.

People from allegedly targeted ethnic groups have started using nicknames, “so when we address one another in public we cannot be identified”, explained another youth known as Pascal Soro.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 2 June report says forces of President Alassane Ouattara’s government have killed scores of real or perceived backers of Gbagbo since the former president was arrested in April.

“The actions President Ouattara takes or fails to take in the coming weeks will define how seriously he takes this cycle of violence,” Corinne Dufka, HRW senior West Africa researcher, told IRIN.

Residents of the Yopougon District, from where the government army Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI) recently chased Gbagbo militia, told IRIN people from many ethnic groups – particularly Bété and Guéré – are not safe.

“We thought when FRCI came and forced the militia out, there would be security – it has been exactly the opposite,” Toupé said.

Attacks by FRCI are not linked to whether or not one was a Gbagbo militant, residents told IRIN. “It’s enough that you have a name from one of these ethnic groups of the west,” Toupé, from Yopougon, told IRIN from a neighbourhood where he has been hiding since mid-April. “You’re lucky if all you get is a broken arm or leg.”

He lived in the largely pro-Gbagbo Sicogi area of Yopougon. “For them [FRCI], if you’re a youth and you’re from there, you’re with the militia – that’s it, you’re through.”

Toupé said he has no news of his wife and one-year-old child, from whom he was separated when they all fled violence.

Reconciliation impossible?

Both Toupé and Pascal Soro said people back in their neighbourhoods, including friends from the Malinké ethnic group, tell them it is not safe to come back. “For now we’ve got to stay where no one knows us,” Pascal Soro told IRIN.

“We are truly imprisoned in our own country,” said Toupé. “We cannot even speak out. State TV gives the impression all is OK and on track towards reconciliation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but there is no place for opposition on the state airwaves.”

Yopougon residents say reconciliation in the country is impossible in the current environment. “If the new authorities want peace and reconciliation they must put an end to indiscriminate arrests and killings carried out each night on the pretext that the targets are opposition militia,” student Valentin Konet told IRIN.

Dufka said FRCI members suspected of abuses must be held accountable. “Initially the hope was that these were isolated acts by undisciplined elements and resulting from the loose and informal way FRCI was thrown together. The fact that high-level officers, who long held prominent posts in the [former anti-Gbagbo] Forces Nouvelles, are credibly implicated, raises considerable concern.”

HRW is calling on the government to put on administrative leave any FRCI members suspected of violations pending investigation.

FRCI and Ouattara communications officers said the new Ouattara government – announced on 1 June – was just getting installed and officials were not yet ready to comment on the report.


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