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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Thursday 27 January 2005

COTE D IVOIRE: Rebels block cotton shipments to government-held south

ABIDJAN, 27 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - Cte d'Ivoire's rebel New Forces movement, which controls the northern half of the West African country, has slapped a ban on the transport of state-owned cotton to the government-controlled south.

The measure, announced in the rebel capital Bouake on Tuesday, was imposed at the end of the harvest. Cotton is a crop which is cultivated exclusively in the rebel-held north of the country.

Since Cote d'Ivoire was split in two by a civil war erupted in September 2002, much of the country's cotton production has been sold to buyers from neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali.

Cherif Ousmane, one of the rebels' top military commanders, told officials of the state-owned Ivorian Textile Development Company (CIDT) in Bouake on Tuesday that the firm's authorisation to haul cotton to Abidjan in the government-held south had been withdrawn with immediate effect.

"The CIDT will not leave our zones with cotton heading southward," Ousmane said at the meeting, which was open to reporters. "When the trucks go to the ports, it has to pay fees and the money is used by Laurent Gbagbo who is repairing his planes to come and kill our relatives."

The rebel ban on cotton shipments to the south follows a controversial decision by the United Nations earlier this month to allow President Laurent Gbagbo to transfer warplanes damaged in the course of the conflict from Yamossoukro, Cote d'Ivoire's official capital near the frontline, to Abidjan, the country's economic hub and the real seat of government.

A row developped after the government announced plans to repair these fighter bombers and attack helicopters in defiance of a UN arms embargo on Cote d'Ivoire.

Gbagbo's forces launched air attacks against the rebels in early November, but most of his attack aircraft were knocked out on the ground two days later by French forces working alongside UN peacekeepers in the country.

The French intervened after nine of their soldiers and an American aid worker were killed by a bombing raid on a French base in Bouake.

The CIDT is the only state-owned company among the three big cotton firms operational in the north, an industry source told IRIN.

"This decision is bad for the cotton industry," said Nicolas N'Guetta, secretary general of the cotton association Inter Coton. "We expect to hold an emergency meeting this week to decide what to do."

However, a CIDT official told IRIN that the company would try and negotiate a lifting of the ban.

"We think that the New Forces will change their minds once they understand that this ban will significantly reduce the income of cotton farmers," he said speaking on condition of anonymity.

CIDT gins about a fifth of this year's expected crop of 400,000 tonnes. The official said this had already been harvested by farmers but had not yet been trucked to ginning plants, where the oil-rich cotton seed is separated from the fibre.

Last season, thousands of tonnes of cotton were smuggled to Mali and Burkina Faso, where buyers paid higher prices.

A source said this was because CIDT deducted from the price paid out to farmers the cost of fertilisers and other inputs supplied at the start of the planting season. "If they sell the produce elsewhere, they don't pay the costs so make a bigger net profit," the source told IRIN.

[ENDS]



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004



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