With the attention of the world focused squarely on Libya and Japan by the time the renewed civil conflict within Ivory Coast had made it to the back pages of a select group of newspapers forces loyal to Alassane Outtara had already swept down through the country re-capturing the nation’s capital Yamoussoukro. These same troops were yesterday engaged in fierce fighting within the country’s real urban centre, Abdijan, with the remnants of groups who remain loyal to Ouattara’s presidential rival, Laurent Gbagbo.
Given this rapid advance it is possible that militarily the end is in sight; although this is by no means certain as resistance in Abdijan has clearly been heavier than expected. Whether this is the case or not, the situation needs to be rapidly resolved and strong leadership, so far lacking, from ECOWAS and the AU, alongside the UN, is urgently required to prevent escalating civilian casualties. As yet unconfirmed reports have emerged of a massacre of up to 800 people in the western Ivorian town of Duekoe by Ouattara forces; while, Gbagbo’s ‘Young Patriots’ have been responsible for numerous atrocities including the targeting of foreigners, UN aid workers and sections of Abdijan’s population supportive of Ouattara’s presidential legitimacy.
The conflict threatens to destabilise permanently the slowly built peace between communities within Ivory Coast with some refugees from the fighting speaking of communal violence and militia and army brutality. Moreover, the involvement of Ouattara’s troops in these incidence, though denied by his supporters, has serious consequences for his legitimacy both within Ivory Coast and as the internationally recognised winner of the contested elections which sparked the conflict. In addition, continued fighting may lead to the further destabilising not only of Ivory Coast itself, but of nearby neighbours also trying to build a newly established post-war national society; most significantly perhaps in neighbouring Liberia.
As the UN is forced to remove civilian staff, the international community and particularly the African community and those controlling the forces on the ground needs to ensure that human rights abuses are prevented at all costs. A solution must be found to end the conflict and restore the democratic process in a country which can ill-afford another protracted war.