UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Tension rises between residents of Abidjan suburb and pro-Gbagbo militia
ABIDJAN, 21 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - Tension has risen in the Abidjan suburb of Adjame following skirmishes this week between a pro-government militia group which has requisitioned a local school as a military training camp and local residents who accuse the militia men of extortion and bullying.
The trouble began in the opposition stronghold on Wednesday, when a group of minibus drivers, taxi drivers and their apprentices came to blows with members of the Patriotic Grouping for Peace (GPP), a hardline nationalist militia group that supports President Laurent Gbagbo.
It occupied the school in Adjame in August last year and has used it as a military training camp ever since.
Eyewitness said the two sides hurled stones at each other on Wednesday and several vehicles and small shops were destroyed, but they said there was no evidence to back local newspaper reports that one man had been killed.
On Thursday and Friday, the situation remained tense in Adjame, a crowded area of downtown Abidjan, which hosts one of the city's biggest markets.
One UN official who went there on Friday as an observer told IRIN. "There was no fighting, but the UN did not stay because we did not want to provoke things."
Local residents said the fighting erupted after local residents, market traders and bus and taxi drivers decided they were fed up with GPP members extorting money from them at impromptu roadblocks.
Many of the traders and drivers are immigrants from other West African countries and people from the north of Cote d'Ivoire. They are widely suspected by President Gbagbo's supporters of sympathising with the rebel movement which has occupied the north of Cote d'Ivoire since civil war broke out in September 2002.
"They [the militia youth] always try to extort money from tradesmen and the population won't take it any longer," said Soumahoro Farikou, an aide of local mayor Youssouf Sylla, who is an influential figure in the opposition Rally of the Republicans (RDR) opposition party.
"They want to solve this one way or the other," Farikou added.
Asked if he had asked the municipal police to intervene, he told IRIN: "they can't.the state cannot do anything on this level. The state is powerless."
Adjame is mainly populated by second generation immigrants and foreigners and is a stronghold of the RDR party of prime minister Alassane Ouattara.
Ouattara, who now lives in exile in Paris, was banned from standing against Gbagbo for the presidency in the 2000 elections on the grounds that his father was born in Burkina Faso. The rebel movement wants him to be allowed to run in fresh presidential elections due in October this year.
Many residents feel threatened by the GPP ad-hoc training camp as the militia have said openly that most Adjame residents are "rebels."
"We've discovered many plots against the government since we established our base in this school in August," camp leader Jeff Fada told IRIN by telephone. He said that a group of taxi and minibus drivers had attacked the militia without reason.
Six militias members were being treated in hospital for machete wounds, he added.
"We are just young Ivorians defending our country, we have the right to be here," Fada said.
The school, known as the Marie-Therese Institute, is state property and belongs to the ministry of Family, Women and Children, an official at the ministry told IRIN on condition of anonymity.
It functioned as a proper girl's school before the GPP took it over, but nobody except the minister herself seems to have taken concrete steps to try and get rid the militia group, which has several hundred members, and its self-appointed leaders.
Asked which authority could be questioned about the GPP, army spokesman Jules Yao Yao told IRIN: "Don't put that question to the military. We don't know them."
The ministry official told IRIN that Family Affairs Minister Jeanne Peuhmond raised the problem of the illegal occupation of the Adjame school with Internal Security Minister Martin Bleou and Defence Minister Rene Amani a cabinet meeting in October, but nothing came of her initiative.
Bleou and Amani were not immediately available for comment.
Diplomats say the leaders of the GPP take their orders from the presidential palace. The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based thinktank, came to the same conclusion in a report published in July.
Although nobody knows for sure who commands the militia groups, ICG said, they have "internal hierarchies leading up to the presidency."
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