Côte d'Ivoire

Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs Kansteiner tells Congress the U.S. supports Côte d'Ivoire peace accord

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"The Marcoussis agreement [between the Government of Cote d'Ivoire and rebel forces] offers a workable framework for moving towards peace and reconciliation in Cote d'Ivoire," Walter Kansteiner, assistant secretary of state for African Affairs told the House Committee on International Relations February 12.
The agreement, reached with the active participation of the United States, France, ECOWAS (The Economic Community of West African States), and the opposing parties in Cote d'Ivoire, was endorsed by the United Nations, under UNSC Resolution 1464, which called on the UN Secretary General to examine ways in which the United Nations could assist in its implementation. The accord provides "a format for addressing some of the key contentious issues -- citizenship, land ownership, and eligibility for the presidency, which Ivoirians have debated for some time," Kansteiner said.

However, implementation "will not be easy," Kansteiner testified, since "important elements among President Gbagbo's supporters have reacted negatively to the proposed participation of rebels in the new government," singling out the French for principal blame. However, Gbagbo has "urged his countrymen to give the accord and Prime Minister-Designate Diarra [the consensus prime minister under the accord] a chance to restore peace," according to Kansteiner

International peacekeeping is taking place with external forces from neighboring African nations under ECOWAS aegis, and French forces, and the United States is aiding the deployment "both with $1.5 million in contractor and logistics support, primarily in the areas of transportation and communication, and equipment from our regional storage depot in Freetown, Sierra Leone," said Kansteiner, including trucks, jeeps, and other vehicles, generators, and communications equipment

Following is Kansteiner's testimony as prepared for delivery:

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Statement by Walter H. Kansteiner
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

On Prospects for Peace in Cote d'Ivoire

February 12, 2003, before the House Committee on International Relations

The political situation in Cote d'Ivoire escalated into an international crisis on September 19, 2002, when a coup d'etat attempted but failed to dislodge the government of President Laurent Gbagbo. The violent incidents of September left rebel forces in control of slightly more than half the country. Only the intervening presence of French military forces prevented the rebels from marching from Bouake, in central Cote d'Ivoire, on Abidjan.

In immediate response to the attempted coup, the United States worked closely with the French to protect American lives, to draw down our embassy presence and to take initial diplomatic steps in the regional and international community to encourage a political settlement. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) acted immediately to form a "contact group" to bring an early end to the fighting. An ECOWAS team obtained a ceasefire on October 17, and negotiations on a permanent settlement opened shortly afterwards in Lome, Togo, under mediation of Togo's President Eyadema. To monitor the ceasefire, ECOWAS promised to provide a military observer mission. It asked the French to take on the task on an interim basis until such a force might be deployed.

In order to provide momentum to the peace process, which appeared to have become stalemated, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin invited the Ivoirian "political forces," i.e., the parties represented in the parliament plus representatives of the three Ivoirian rebel groups to meet in Paris in January 2003. Out of these intensive negotiations emerged the Marcoussis agreement, signed on January 24, 2003.

The Marcoussis accord provides a format for addressing some of the key contentious issues -- citizenship, land ownership, and eligibility for the presidency, which Ivoirians have debated for some time. The participants in the negotiations made clear their understanding that many of the measures agreed upon would require legislation, and in some instances, changes to the constitution to implement. All parties present pledged to support these measures. To implement the agreement, the parties agreed that a "Government of National Reconciliation" would be formed around a consensus prime minister. A transitional power-sharing arrangement called for the transfer of some presidential powers to the new prime minister. Marcoussis did not, however, specify how ministerial portfolios would be distributed

The Marcoussis agreement offers a workable framework for moving towards peace and reconciliation in Cote d'Ivoire. The U.S. has repeatedly affirmed its support for the agreement. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Bellamy represented the U.S. at the Paris heads of state meeting and expressed support for the agreement. The U.S. actively supported United Nations Security Council Resolution 1464, which endorsed the Marcoussis accord and called on the UN Secretary General to examine ways in which the United Nations could assist in its implementation.

Implementing Marcoussis will not be easy. Important elements among President Gbagbo's supporters have reacted negatively to the proposed participation of rebels in the new government. They have demonstrated vociferously and sometimes violently. In particular, they singled out the French as responsible for perceived flaws in the agreement. French military forces remain on high alert and the French are acting to protect the lives and property of more than 16,000 French citizens still in Cote d'Ivoire.

President Gbagbo, I believe, walks a narrow line. He has made clear his opposition to awarding portfolios in the new government to the rebels, and his determination to defend the Ivoirian constitution. On Friday, February 7, President Gbagbo addressed the nation, stating that he accepted the "spirit" of Marcoussis, albeit not all of the specifics. He urged his countrymen to give the accord and Prime Minister-Designate Diarra a chance to restore peace. He said he would not, however, transfer his executive powers to the Prime Minister nor override the constitution. He also stated that he was not prepared to accept the rebels as members of the government.

The Ivoirian rebels insist that, having dropped their demands for Gbagbo's ouster and early elections at Marcoussis, they should be awarded the ministries of Defense and Interior in the new government. They claim they were promised these posts in Paris. They have given President Gbagbo until the end of this week to implement Marcoussis fully or face a resumption of hostilities.

To try to break the present impasse, President Kufour, the new President of ECOWAS, convoked Gbagbo, Diarra, and the rebels to meet with him and the ECOWAS contact group in Cote d'Ivoire's administrative capital, Yamoussoukro on February 10. The rebels indicated that they would not appear. Nevertheless, P.M. Diarra was officially installed.

Preserving Peace with International Peacekeeping

Achieving and preserving peace and stability in Cote d'Ivoire will require external forces. French forces in Cote d'Ivoire have risen from 600 present on September 19 to approximately 3,000. The French have maintained buffer positions along an east-west axis dividing government-held territory from that held by the Popular Movement for Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI). In the far west, French forces interposed between government forces and the Movement for Peace and Justice (MPJ) and the Ivoirian Patriotic Movement of the Great West (MPIGO) have been confronted on several occasions by rebel forces and have suffered casualties.

Regional peacekeepers from Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, and Togo, under ECOWAS aegis, began arriving in Cote d'Ivoire in January. Approximately 800 are now in country; we expect this number to increase initially to 1,300. We have applauded the ECOWAS leaders for their readiness to assume direct responsibility for regional security. For more than half a decade, we have worked with ECOWAS to develop a regional peacekeeping capability. We are gratified to see large numbers of personnel who have received training under our (old) ACRI (Africa Crisis Response Initiative), (new) ACOTA (African Contingency Operations and Training Assistance), and Operation Focus Relief (OFR) among the units deployed. The readiness of ECOWAS members to participate in Cote d'Ivoire peacekeeping was recognized in the Security Council in UNSCR 1464.

The United States has so far supported the ECOFORCE deployment, both with $1.5 million in contractor and logistics support, primarily in the areas of transportation and communication, and equipment from our regional storage depot in Freetown, Sierra Leone. That equipment includes trucks, jeeps, and other vehicles, generators, and communications equipment. We envision that this equipment will be returned to the U.S. upon completion of this mission.

A resumption of fighting is, of course, a possibility. That said, we continue to caution all the parties that this would be a tragic mistake that can bring nothing but further suffering to the region. We do not believe that any party is capable of achieving a military victory. Certainly, no party should attempt to pursue one.

Laying Down Markers to Neighboring States

We have made clear to all of Cote d'Ivoire's neighbors that we cannot tolerate interference to further destabilize the country. We, and others, have made this point with particular emphasis to President Compaore of Burkina-Faso and President Taylor of Liberia. While both presidents deny any connection with or support for the rebels, circumstantial evidence suggests there is ample reason to remain concerned and vigilant.

Several of the key coup plotters enjoyed sanctuary for some time in Burkina-Faso immediately before the coup. The level of coordination and planning, the infrastructure, and the weaponry available to the rebels all suggest a pattern of outside assistance.

Liberians are certainly fighting with both rebel groups in the west, along the Liberian border. While President Taylor insists he opposes the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire, there is no doubt that there is an extensive movement across the Liberian/Ivoirian border. Liberians are bringing looted items back home and mercenaries easily cross into Cote d'Ivoire. I would point out, in addition, that several ethnic groups straddle the border, and it is easy to recruit fighters ready to settle old grudges.

We are looking very carefully at Cote d'Ivoire's borders, and are maintaining a high level of diplomatic activity to ensure that others are also paying close attention to President Taylor's and President Compaore's behavior.

United States Policy

Since September 19, the U.S. recognized that civil war in Cote d'Ivoire posed a significant threat to stability and security in West Africa, threatened important economic interests, might trigger deep-seated ethnic tensions and risked endangering the lives and safety of American citizens.

Our immediate and continuing concern is the safety of American citizens. Immediately after the failed coup, a European Command (EUCOM) Survey and Assessment Team (ESAT) arrived to assist Ambassador Arlene Render and her staff at the American Embassy in Abidjan to organize and carry out the evacuation of American citizens from dangerous locations and to find safe havens in Abidjan and in other states in the region. To the best of my knowledge, all American citizens are accounted for and are safe. At present, approximately 1,400 of the 3,500 American citizens resident in Cote d'Ivoire on September 19 remain in country. The Embassy remains in very close touch with the American community through its warden system.

In late October, the official American mission in Cote d'Ivoire was placed in a status of "ordered departure." The Embassy was reduced to an essential core of approximately 40 key American officials, including security.

Our principle political objective in Cote d'Ivoire is the restoration of peace and stability in the country and in the region. We believe the best way to achieve the necessary peace and reconciliation is through a more open, transparent, and inclusive democratic process. The Marcoussis accords provide for this type of process, but it is up to Ivorians to make it work. We are prepared to work with Ivoirian leaders to help strengthen democratic principles and governance in Cote d'Ivoire.

We do not want to see civil war destroy the Ivoirian economy. To date, there has not been a great deal of damage to the economic infrastructure. However, there has been considerable social disruption, and normal transportation and communication routes have been made unusable or unreliable. In the past, Cote d'Ivoire's ability to transcend ethnic and political divisions was due in part to its productive economy. National wealth gave the country an infrastructure and economic promise that have been the envy of the region. Preserving and restoring the economy will be no easy task.

It is essential to also make clear the role that Cote d'Ivoire has played as a vital and vibrant economic engine for the region. Cote d'Ivoire has absorbed excess population from its neighbors, providing cash incomes from which they remit substantial sums to their families in the region. The country is the region's major market and transportation hub. Although the conflict has redirected some economic activities to its neighbors, without the dynamism of the Ivoirian economy to bolster the region, over time a diminished Cote d'Ivoire will begin to send workers home, possibly as refugees. If not dealt with, this conflict has the seeds not only to become a center of political instability, but one which spreads economic stagnation and collapse.

Finally, we are speaking out about the deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. We have witnessed the killing and wounding of the innocent since the first day of fighting. Moreover, as the conflict has continued to fester, we have noted the emergence of what appear to be clear cases of extra-judicial killings and disappearances. These must stop, and those responsible must be brought to justice. We are alarmed by rhetoric that incites mob violence, that enhances ethnic distrust, and that preaches hate. This will not restore democracy.

The situation in Cote d'Ivoire is difficult and complex. The country has significant issues of inclusion and participation that it must solve. Its leaders must come to grips with the realities of its current ethnic composition, and again assert leadership that looks to the future, not the past. We are prepared to work with them, as we are with other African peoples, nations, and leaders, towards a better common future for all.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity. I would be pleased to answer your questions.

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(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)