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Ivory Coast Conflict

2003

The conflict in the Ivory Coast was at an uneasy crossroads at the start of 2003. The emergence of 2 new rebel forces, as well as the failing peace talks in Togo threatened to plunge the nation into all out warfare. The shaky cease-fire that had been enforced by French forces came into jeopardy when both sides claimed to be the victims of aggression in early January 2003. French peacekeepers confirmed that a government helicopter attack on the fishing village of Menakro in central rebel territory killed 12 civilians. An Ivorian government official defended the attacks as being aimed at military targets in response to an alleged rebel attack that had occurred nearby. The government also accused the rebel groups of being linked to bands of armed Liberians who had been looting towns in the western region of the country. Rebel leaders declared that helicopter attack had nullified the ceasefire. However, French peacekeepers condemned the attack and were able to obtain a pledge from the Ivorian government to ground the helicopters and maintain the ceasefire.

Still, the ceasefire only applied to the main rebel faction, Patriotic Movement of the Ivory Coast (MPCI), and did not bind the rebel groups controlling the western part of the county, Movement for Peace and Justice, and the Ivorian Popular Movement. Another incident that threatened to derail the progress towards negations was an attack on 6 January 2003 on the French stronghold town of Duekoue. Thirty of the attackers were killed and the French released a statement downplaying the attack and attributing it to violent gangs that were not under the control of any of the rebel groups. Despite the ongoing uncertainty and mistrust, the government and all 3 major rebel groups agreed to undergo peace talks in Paris. The other two rebel groups from the west agreed to join the ceasefire, and all parties agreed not to take anymore territory during the peace talks or during the deployment of a multinational West African peace keeping force.

Negotiations in Paris began on 15 January 2003. The rebel groups collectively maintained their demand for the resignation of President Gbagbo and the calling of new elections. While the government would not concede the possibility of Gbagbo's resignation, it did take a conciliatory stance on granting amnesty to the rebels. An early agreement from the talks changed the nation's policy on citizenship and national identity. While it had been required that both of a persons parents be from the Ivory Coast to be a citizen, the new amendment permitted citizenship based on one parent. The old definition had been used to disenfranchise the nation's numerous immigrants and had barred a number of candidates from the pivotal 2000 election, including Alassane Ouattara. By the end of the negations on 24 January 2003, the parties had reached an agreement. The accord called for a power-sharing government of national reconciliation that would grant positions to rebel leaders as well as opposition parties. President Gbagbo was to remain president, although most executive power was to be transfered to a Prime Minister to be determined by consensus. Seydou Diarra, a Muslim from the rebel-held north and former Prime Minister just prior to Mr. Gbagbo's election in 2000, was selected for the position. The new government was to orchestrate new, fair political elections at a later date. The rebels also agreed to disarm to end the conflict.

As soon as the accord was signed, protests erupted in the main city of Abidjan, denouncing the deal for being too conciliatory to rebel demands. Most of the anger was directed towards the French, whom the protestors believed had pressured Gbagbo to accept the agreement. Senior army officials in the Ivory Coast also rejected the agreement on the grounds that they did not support rebel integration into the government. The military remained extremely contentious to the prospect of giving rebels the positions as the ministers of defense and interior, which had been promised by the accord.

In order to save the agreement and quell the unrest, a deal was brokered between the government and the rebels who forfeited their claims to the 2 disputed ministries in exchange for 2 other government positions. In total, the rebels were given 9 of the 41 available cabinet positions. At first, the appointed rebel leaders did not show up for their ministerial duties, sighting security concerns. Once they arrived on 3 April 2003, they began the slow process of being integrated into the government.

One of the first tasks that unified the newly instated reconciliation government was the expulsion of foreign soldiers and mercenaries who had entered into the country to participate in the fighting in order to reap the gains of looting. Most of these foreign fighters were from Liberia and Sierra-Leone. When the rebel forces controlling the western territories began efforts to disarm and disband what had been their former allies, renewed fighting broke out. Ivorian military troops were deployed along the borders to stem any new influx of foreign fighters.

On 16 May 2003, the United Nations Security Counsel authorized a mission to send 75-members of a peace keeping force to the Ivory Coast as MINUCI, or the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire. This unarmed force was sent to provide assistance to the French and ECOWAS forces already operating as peace keepers in the region to preserve the fragile peace agreement threatened by continued fighting with foreign mercenaries. The UN mission was also sent to monitor and access the humanitarian crisis that has emerged in the wake of the civil war. Some 700,000 Ivorians were internally displaced by the fighting and ethnic persecution.

In early July 2003, the unity government signed an agreement officially ending the war, despite the prevalence of continued obstacles such as rebel disarmament and anti-unified government protests in Abidjan. By September 2003, the crucial posts of minister of defense and minister of security had still not been filled. When President Gbagbo attempted to unilaterally appoint 2 "neutral" candidates to the positions, the rebels protested, saying that they would accept nothing less than a consensus decision. The 3 rebel groups that had fought separately during the armed conflict joined together and called themselves the New Forces, with former MPCI commander, Guillaume Soro, as their leader. They stated that they would not begin disarmament until the positions were filled in the manner agreed upon in the Marcoussis peace deal that had been signed in January 2003.

In late September 2003, the political dispute in Ivory Coast appeared to be deepening, as some rebels began calling for independence for the part of the country they occupied. The largest blow to the peace process came on 23 September 2002, as the New Forces rebel group pulled out of the government of reconciliation. They cited the failure of President Gbagbo to honor his commitments in the peace accord and accused him of heavily rearming in order to resume hostilities. The rebel leaders returned to their de-facto capital of Bouake in the north and stated that they were willing to resume negotiations, but only if they were held within their territory.

After efforts by Ghana and other ECOWAS members to convince the rebels to rejoin the power-sharing government, France renewed diplomatic efforts on 20 November 2002. On 22 December 2002, the New Forces agreed to return to their government posts in exchange for a full implementation of the January 2003 peace deal. This action coincided with the disarmament of the border between the government and rebel held territories as well as the removal of roadblocks that each side had erected. There remained tension as to how to address many key points of the peace treaty including land laws, nationality, and voting rights. President Gbagbo believed that these issues should be settled by referendum while the New Forces wanted them to be instated as they had been agreed upon in the peace deal.




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