Ivory Coast: Gbagbo fighters to return from Togo

IVORY-COAST

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — About 200 fighters loyal to former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo will be repatriated from Togo after two years of exile following their country’s 2010-11 postelection conflict, government spokesman Bruno Kone said.

Kone said the fighters include members of Gbagbo’s Defense and Security Forces army and pro-Gbagbo militiamen who fled to Togo toward the end of the conflict, which began after Gbagbo refused to leave office despite losing the November 2010 vote to current President Alassane Ouattara. More than 3,000 people were killed in five months of fighting, according to United Nations estimates.

“This operation will be taking into account 200 of the ex-combatants,” Kone said. “Since all of these armed people are not part of our regular armed forces, they will be disarmed.”

The former fighters will now be civilians in Ivory Coast and some will receive a small amount of compensation to help them get started, said Kone. He did not provide a date for the repatriation, saying it could start “at any time.”

Ouattara first mentioned the operation publicly last weekend during a trip to western Ivory Coast, a region that generally supported Gbagbo and has remained volatile in the two years since the conflict ended.

The U.N. refugee agency said it has registered around 400 Ivorian ex-combatants in Togo, though they are not staying in refugee camps.

During a March meeting in the Togolese capital Lome, the U.N. agency provided a list of these fighters to Fidele Sarassoro, director general of Ivory Coast’s Authority for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, said Ann Encontre, Ivory Coast country representative for the U.N. refugee agency. The decision to repatriate them is the result of a bilateral agreement between the two countries, she said.

Pro-Gbagbo fighters scattered throughout West Africa, notably in Liberia and Ghana, have been accused of staging attacks on villages and security installations in Ivory Coast. The most recent attacks occurred in March, when thousands were displaced by three raids in western Ivory Coast that were suspected to have originated in Liberia.

In addition to ex-combatants, there are about 5,000 Ivorian refugees in Togo, Encontre said.

Tension between the refugees and local security forces has risen in recent weeks. Last Friday, five refugees were arrested after a demonstration at the Avepozo camp outside Lome, said Security Minister Col. Yark Damehane.

Damehane said the demonstration resulted in multiple tents being burned to the ground, and blamed some of the residents for the disturbance.

“It is true that some Ivorian refugees who were trying to provoke havoc through some criminal acts, like the burning of the tents of some of their brothers, were arrested on Friday. In all, five of them were arrested and sent to Lome prison,” he said. “We are worried about the agitations of some Ivorian refugees at Avepozo camp for some weeks now. They are intended to provoke havoc by organizing demonstrations and sit-ins every day.”

Elisabeth Gogoua, a spokeswoman for the refugees who was among those arrested, said conditions at the camp are unacceptable. “We are not treated well here in Togo by the U.N.,” she said. “So we are just asking the institution to relocate some of the women to another country. We eat only rice with oil and pepper. Some of our tents are torn apart. We want them to increase our monthly financial assistance.”

But Theophilus Vodounou, a local representative for the U.N. refugee agency, said the protests were an attempt by some refugees to be transferred to the United States or Canada, something he said was “not possible.”

“The behavior of the refugees shows that they are not concerned by food as they were saying at first,” he said.

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Ekoue reported from Lome, Togo

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