Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: ECOFORCE continues deployment

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ABIDJAN, 24 March (IRIN) - A buffer force deployed to Cote d'Ivoire by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is scheduled to take up its positions along a 600 km line across Cote d'Ivoire this week, according to its chief of staff. The ECOWAS force, known as ECOFORCE, reached its prescribed strength of 1264 on 24 March with the arrival of a final group of 35 peacekeepers from Senegal, according to the Ecoforce Communication Unit in Abidjan. It comprises contingents from five countries: Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
Col Mathieu Boni told IRIN on Friday in Zambakro, some 15 km from the capital, Yamoussoukro, where he is based, that each national contingent will be in charge of a given sector along the 600-km line, which stretches from the area around Bondoukou, close to the border with Ghana, to the Sassandra River in the western part of the country. Between 24 and 28 March, contingents from Benin, Niger, Senegal and Togo will take over from French troops which have been acting as a buffer between Ivorian government troops and rebels who occupy the north of the country as well as part of the west.

A Ghanaian contingent had already taken over from the French on 15 March 2003 in Bondoukou. The peacekeepers from Niger will be in charge of the neighbouring sector, around a town called Prikro, followed by the Senegalese at Tiebissou, 60 km north of Yamoussoukro. The Togolese unit will be around Bouafle, northwest of Yamoussoukro, while the contingent from Benin will be stationed in the Daloa area, southwest of Bouafle. The French forces will be stationed behind their ECOWAS counterparts.

Under Resolution 1464 of the UN Security Council, the two forces are mandated to protect civilians within their areas of operation. "The fact that you have been to the same military school as some people in both camps enables you to handle the situation amicably and using dissuasion by advocating settlement agreements," Boni told IRIN. [The nucleus of the main rebel group, the MPCI, includes members of the armed forces who staged an uprising on 19 September and then retreated to the central town of Bouake.] ECOFORCE's tasks also include "preventing rumours of attacks circulating in the two camps, maintaining contact with the government, on one hand, and the rebels on the other and collecting basic information, according to Boni, who conducted a six-month interposition mission in 1999 between pro- and anti-government forces in Guinea-Bissau. The situation on the ground was calm, he said, although there were some skirmishes owing to "bandits" who had been taking advantage of the situation to extort money from civilians in some communities.

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