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28 October 2002

U.S. Against Force of Arms Solution to Cote d'Ivoire Crisis

(Official says U.S. would not recognize Gbagbo overthrow) (970)
By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Although it determined Cote d'Ivoire's last presidential
election was seriously flawed, the U.S. government strongly
disapproves of any attempts to remove the Administration of President
Laurent Gbagbo by force of arms, says a senior State Department
official.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Mark
Bellamy told an October 22 forum on the recent rebellion in Cote
d'Ivoire, "Any authority that issues from an overthrow [there] would
not be accorded legitimacy by the United States."
United Nations Special Envoy for West Africa Ahmedou Ould Abdallah and
Cote d'Ivoire's Ambassador to the United States Pascal Kokora joined
the U.S. diplomat at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS) event. Discussion centered on how to peacefully resolve
the rebellion that broke out against President Gbagbo's government on
September 19.
Steve Morrison, CSIS Africa director, opened the program by noting
that the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, the world's largest cocoa producer,
would threaten the political and economic stability of the region if
left unchecked.
Following a French military response, a ceasefire was signed between
the rebels -- many of them disgruntled former Ivorien military
personnel -- and the Gbagbo government. Now, six West African members
of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have agreed
to act as intermediaries in negotiations held in Abidjan.
The State Department's Bellamy explained that even before the
September coup attempt, Cote d'Ivoire was under scrutiny and "operated
under U.S. sanctions as a result of the military coup in 1999. The
fact that the elections of October 2000 were not, in our judgment,
free and fair, therefore, did not remove Cote d'Ivoire from the
sanctions list. Nevertheless, we've been able to waive those sanctions
in specific instances and over the past six months we have been
proceeding toward developing a more normal relationship with Cote
d'Ivoire given the political and economic progress it has been
making."
Since the September attack, Bellamy said the United States has
"remained in close touch with France," the former colonial power in
Cote d'Ivoire. France provided military security for the removal of
its citizens as well as a group of U.S. students from harm's way
during fighting around Bouake, a center of rebel activity. He added,
"We are also encouraging the ECOWAS peace initiative, which we believe
is the best way out of the present crisis."
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner
visited Abidjan on October 9 and after a meeting with President Gbagbo
had told the press, "We encouraged President Gbagbo to look for a
non-military solution to this crisis. We encouraged him to enter into
negotiations both with the regional partners, the ECOWAS leadership,
and with rebels too."
On the economic impact of the rebellion, Kansteiner termed Cote
d'Ivoire "an economic anchor in the region. It's a terrific engine for
growth, so it's important to get Cote d'Ivoire back on its feet where
it can attract increased commerce and direct foreign investment."
Bellamy reiterated Kansteiner's points in citing several factors that
colored Washington's approach to the crisis including:
-- The intentions of the mutineers, which are "not entirely clear;"
-- A tendency by the Cote d'Ivoire government to blame outside forces
for the attack while failing to discourage its citizens from lashing
out against foreigners and the French;
-- The Government's overrating the ability of its military to contain
the threat; and
-- "Reluctance by the Government to consider an ECOWAS intervention
force."
U.N. Special Representative Abdallah told the CSIS forum he believed
"the Cote d'Ivoire government is the victim of an attack... but must
realize the crisis is very severe and that the country is on the
threshold of a civil war."
Noting that he had "no direct role in [resolving] the crisis,"
Abdallah stressed that "the U.N. role was to support ECOWAS" in its
mediation efforts.
Before the September rebellion, Abdallah said, the crises in Sierra
Leone and Liberia were his top priorities in West Africa, in part,
because of the flood of refugees they had caused. Cote d'Ivoire had
risen to the top of his priority list because "of its affect on its
neighbors," not least the disruption to international refugee efforts
in the region.
Abdallah also agreed with Bellamy about Cote d'Ivoire's overestimation
of its military's ability noting, "There have been severe problems
strategically with the Army."
Touching on allied cooperation, the U.N. diplomat was especially
pleased that there was no rivalry, "antagonism or opposition" between
"the Anglo-Saxons and the French" in working to defuse the crisis in
Cote d'Ivoire. "In all my meetings with the British, American and
French Ambassadors I had the feeling that all were" working in close
coordination. "There seems to be a genuine consensus on how to help
Cote d'Ivoire."
Abdallah said he had been speaking with businesspeople who told him
that while the political crisis was severe, economic fallout from the
rebellion could prove devastating to Cote d'Ivoire. "The stakes are
very high for the country," Abdallah declared. "At the ministry of
finance they told me customs revenue had dropped by 50 percent" since
the attack."
The diplomat explained that the rebellion had come during the harvest
season for the cocoa crop and the fighting had disrupted the cash
supply that is usually available to pay farmers. The fighting has also
badly affected tourism with hotel occupancy only at 10 percent of
normal and airplanes landing in Abidjan "almost empty."
A representative of the French Embassy in Washington told the CSIS
gathering that the policy aims voiced by Bellamy and Abdallah were
"exactly the same priorities we have" in Cote d'Ivoire. He explained
that roughly 1,000 French troops were there "at the request of the
Cote d'Ivoire government and will provide security" until ECOWAS
peacekeeping forces can take up station. "We are also ready to provide
logistical support for this effort," the diplomat added.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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