UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Interview with sanctioned rebel, Martin Kouakou Fofie
KORHOGO, 29 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Martin Kouakou Fofie served as the rebel’s chief of security before taking over eight months ago as ‘com-zone’ or military commander of Korhogo, in the far north of war-divided Cote d’Ivoire. In this interview with IRIN, Fofie talks about life under UN sanctions, allegations of human rights abuses and his new project to clean up and beautify Korhogo.
Fofie, a 38-year-old former government soldier known for his distinctive bushy beard, says he signed up with the 2002 rebellion that split Cote d'Ivoire in two after he was tortured for his role in a previous bid to oust President Laurent Gbagbo. He has named the New Forces rebel barracks in Korhogo 'Camp Fansara 110' after the cell where he was held.
In February the UN slapped sanctions including an assets freeze and a travel ban on Fofie - along with two other Ivorians - saying in a statement: “Forces under [Fofie’s] command engaged in recruitment of child soldiers, abductions, imposition of forced labour, sexual abuse of women, arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings," and adding that Fofie was an obstacle to peace.
IRIN: The UN Security Council imposed a travel ban on you and asked its member states to freeze your assets. You are held responsible for extra-judicial killings, sexual abuse, arbitrary arrests and abductions…
Fofie: Sanctions mean nothing to me. If you impose sanctions, you need proof of wrongdoing. There should have been some kind of logic to it. On the night of 19 September, I knew I was reprehensible for taking up arms. But these sanctions…I don’t understand. I don’t understand what the UN is holding against me. I should not be mistaken for a delinquent. I am an Ivorian army officer. I never galvanised youths to go destroy UN bases or attack French troops. You have seen that happening in Abidjan under the very nose of the highest person in charge of the UN mission. What’s that got to do with me?
The UN human rights division noted with alarm that sexual abuse of women and forced marriages involving young girls were on the rise in and around Korhogo. Can you at least explain what is being done to stop that?
Have you met anybody who’s been forced to marry? Have you met women who’ve been raped? There are lots of rumours, but where’s the proof? I think that we are doing everything we can to make Korhogo a nice place to live.
Still, you are known as an authoritarian figure and many people say they fear you. Why do you think that is?
I am not a bootlicker. I will say what I think of you no matter what your social rank is. I have a strong personality and I try to exert it, as you have seen.
How do you run Korhogo considering that you seem to be the town’s mayor, police chief, judge and military commander all at once?
To say that I am all at once is overstating it. The New Forces are highly structured. There is a hierarchy. There is a police force. I am the commander of the zone, but I can’t do everything by myself. I have collaborators.
Why are you cleaning the city in such a remarkable way and where does the money come from?
It is necessary to have a clean and liveable environment. It is also important to show that we, the New Forces, have savoir-faire. Every zone commander does what he believes is his duty. We are trying to make the city safe and secure and I think that it is working. The sons of the region are contributing to the realisation of our projects. We call in the businessmen, we present them with our plans and say: we’d like you to contribute. That’s how it works. They don’t hesitate to help develop the city because the fact that they can conduct their trade indicates that Korhogo is a good place to live.
Meanwhile, do you think Korhogo is ready for a redeployment of the administration?
We hope it will happen as soon as possible. A minimum is already in place to receive the government administrators.
The New Forces have been holding the north for more than three years and to outsiders, some cities look more like private kingdoms. Considering the individual power some zone commanders have, diplomats fear that it will be difficult to convince everybody to disarm. Are your troops ready to disarm?
Disarmament is the last of our concerns. As I said, we are organised. Our troops are no longer walking around with guns. So what do you want them to put down? We are concerned with reinsertion. We’ll have to give these youths something to do. And we are concerned with identification. Not just us, no, the whole of Cote d’Ivoire needs to be identified.
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 2006
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