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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

30 September 2002

The Permanent Representative of Côte d’Ivoire to the United Nations, Djessan Philippe Djangone-Bi, told a Headquarters press conference this morning the international community should send a strong message to the rebels attacking the Government in his country, since the entire subregion was faced with the risk of destabilization.

Côte d'Ivoire was an important country for the region, Mr. Djangone-Bi continued. For one thing, it provided 40 per cent of the security monitoring in the area. The situation was the same as a neighbour's house burning. If nothing were done to contain it, the fire would spread. He said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was sending a contact group to persuade the rebels to lay down arms and start a dialogue of negotiation with the Government. If that group failed in its mission, he added, the Government would take other measures step by step. Troops of the ECOWAS military observer group would be sent in. Direct support in the form of munitions and logistics from the international community would be sought. As a good partner to Côte d'Ivoire, France was already providing logistical support. The United States, United Kingdom and the African Union were also providing assistance.

Describing the situation on the ground, Mr. Djangone-Bi said some soldiers of the national army, using their imminent demobilization as a pretext, and with the massive participation of mercenaries from the subregion, had attempted a coup d'état on the night between 18 and 19 September. The initiators of the coup had simultaneously attacked the strategic cities of Abidjan, the economic capital; Bouake, the capital in the centre; and Korhogo, the capital in the north.

The three violent attacks had caused severe damage and loss of life, he said. More than 300 people had been killed so far. The Minister of Interior and Decentralization had been shot in cold blood by terrorists. Other high officials had been killed, their residences attacked with heavy artillery. A transmitter serving the media in the capital had been attacked, so as to isolate Côte d'Ivoire from the rest of the world. The attacks were targeted and aimed at the very heart of the country. They occurred while the Head of State was on an official visit to Italy. It was worth noting that the assailants had sophisticated weapons that were not part of the national army's arsenal. They also had ample financial means with which to recruit young boys in the cities they were still holding. As of today, he said the terrorists still held Bouake and Korhogo. Abidjan had remained free from the very beginning. While the Government was awaiting the ECOWAS contact group, it had begun a counter-attack to free Bouake.

There was no justification for the coup, he continued. The Government had made many strides in the economic, social, political and diplomatic fields during its 23 months of democratic governance. A forum for national reconciliation had been held. Political leaders had reached consensus on main issues, which would lead on 5 December of the present year to a broad-based government that included the main opposition parties. None of those parties supported the coup, which was being carried out by deserters from the national army and mercenaries from others in the region.

Asked to elaborate on the rebels, Mr. Djangone-Bi said the nationals were soldiers who had not wanted to be demobilized. Based on evidence from those

captured, the foreign mercenaries were from Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Liberia. Some were refugees. It could not be said that those countries backed the rebels. However, there was one country, to remain nameless for now, that was known to be backing them.

The rebels had no name, he said in response to another question. The violence was being called the "faceless rebellion" because many of the nationals taking part had deserted the national army during the 9 October 2000 presidential election. They wore masks and fishing nets to disguise themselves. One fighter captured a few days ago had claimed to be their spokesman. He had been one of those deserters and not of a high rank.

From the beginning, he said, it had been evident that the rebels were using arms that were not part of the national army's munitions and that they were well financed. The coup was happening at a time when development was about to be decentralized. An assessment of the economic damage would be a matter of studying the long-term impact. The problem, however, was arising at a time when the country was just starting to come out of a tunnel.

Asked to comment on the rise in cocoa prices since the Côte d'Ivoire coup, he said brokers in London and Chicago sometimes acted on inaccurate information. The cocoa belt was unaffected by the coup, except for a small northern part of Bouake.

Asked what role the rebels could have in the new broad-based government, Mr. Djangone-Bi said "government" was a legal term and process. It involved such elements as elections. Côte d'Ivoire's legitimate Government could negotiate on political and social matters. It could negotiate on complaints and differences. The aim of the rebels was to overthrow the Government. That was not a negotiable end.

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