Liberia, I.Coast, Guinea triangle still flashpoint for west Africa violence
DANANE, Ivory Coast, Oct 25 (AFP) - The stagnant Ivory Coast peace process is evoking fears that idle fighters are looking to neighbors Liberia and Guinea to foment further unrest in volatile west Africa.
"There have been reports lately that certain renegade members of our movement are joining forces with Liberians to create dissent within our ranks and possibly start something either here or nearby," Abou Faman Coulibaly, commander of the rebel Movement for the People of the Ivorian Great West (MPIGO), told AFP.
"The ruling party in (Ivory Coast's main city) Abidjan is financing them, on Guinean or Liberian soil, so that they can attack us from both sides."
The triangle linking the west African neighbors has been a hotbed of unrest for more than a decade, sending thousands of refugees fleeing across borders and destroying once vibrant agricultural economies.
It was from northeastern Liberia's Nimba county that former president Charles Taylor launched his scorched-earth campaign in 1989, which lasted for seven years.
A second rebellion in Liberia, begun in 1999 and brought to an end in August last year, is known to have been backed by Guinea and Ivory Coast.
Taylor is also thought to have financed MPIGO as part of the rebel uprising against Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002, which plunged the world's top cocoa producer into its current crisis.
Diplomatic and humanitarian sources say that Guinea's forested region, a 30-minute walk from Nimba county capital Ganta and a stone's throw from Ivory Coast, is on the cusp of explosion in a bid to topple ailing President Lansana Conte.
The abundance of gold, rubber and timber in the region is a powerful incentive for chaos, according to a July report by the International Crisis Group. Control over profits from the iron ore buried within the Mount Nimba range between Liberia and Ivory Coast could also fuel future conflict.
Though thousands of UN and French peacekeepers are on the ground, it is MPIGO fighters who maintain control of the Ivorian side of the border. There are no international troops within 15 kilometers (10 miles) over difficult roads.
Bangladeshi troops based in Liberia's border town of Loguatu say relations with MPIGO fighters are "friendly," though contacts between the two sides are limited.
Ivory Coast's process to disarm an estimated 30,000 fighters has been postponed three times over rebel objections to surrendering their weapons before a series of political reforms mandated under a January 2003 peace pact are implemented.
And while Liberia's disarmament seems a success, enrolling some 85,000 people ahead of its October 30 deadline, UN peacekeepers say they know there is heavy artillery stashed in the bush, making a reprise of conflict all the more likely.
Those ex-combatants are of greatest concern for Abou Faman and his ranks, who have since January last year combined forces with two other rebel groups to form the New Forces.
"Since we heard that these Liberians that we chased from our country have joined together with some of our dissident brothers, we have decided to regroup and make known that we are here, vigilant, and ready to handle anything thrown at us," he said.
"There are bad seeds in every group," said Abou Faman. "But we have begun to eliminate them from our organization and expect there to be no more problems."
Such swagger could be due to the heavily armed MPIGO fighters still seen at border checkpoints set up at five-kilometer (three-mile) intervals on roads leading to Danane, but Abou Faman dismissed that as nonsense.
"Those are toy guns," he said. "Water pistols and such - you know, just for fun."
lg/gk AFP 250115 GMT 10 04
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 10/24/2004 21:17:23
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