Ivorian divisions run deep, U.N. says

Oct. 17, 2012 at 12:48 PM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- A commander for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast suggested political divisions are entrenched deeply enough to handicap national reconciliation.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, known by its French initials UNOCI, estimates there are as many as 80,000 former fighters who haven't disarmed.

Mohammed Iqbal Asi, UNOCI's commander, told the United Nations' humanitarian news agency IRIN that forces loyal to President Allassane Ouattara are politicized.

"The authorities must make sure that their (military) restructuring conforms to international standards and that they work for the country and not for a party or an individual," he said.

Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi, IRIN reports, puts the number of former fighters at around 30,000. UNOCI, meanwhile, estimates there may be as many as 3 million weapons in circulation in Ivory Coast.

"The government makes nice speeches, but political divisions are so great that they are affecting the institutions," the UNOCI commander said.

In August, four people were killed, including an Ivorian soldier, when unidentified men opened fire at a military checkpoint outside the commercial capital Abidjan.

Ivorian officials suggested fighters loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo were behind some of the violence.

The country was pushed to the brink of civil war following rival claims to the presidency in 2010. Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.

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