Having just returned from her five-nation assessment mission to West Africa, Carolyn McAskie told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that although President Laurent Gbagbo issued a statement accepting at least the spirit of the Linas-Morcoussis Agreement, "we are currently waiting to see if the rebels will in fact take that as full implementation of the accord and come to the table."
"At the moment, they are not yet accepting to come back to the table," said Ms. McAskie, the Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy for the Crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. "We are very concerned about the breakdown of society in the country, and my sense is that even should the peace accord suddenly jump into life, it would take months if not more than a year to stabilize the population and the country."
Recalling that her mission - with stops in Liberia, Guinea, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali - also examined the effects of the Ivoirian conflict on neighbouring countries, Ms. McAskie said the fighting has been characterized by attacks on so-called foreigner nationals of other West African countries living and working in Côte d'Ivoire. "Those people, some of whom have lived and worked in Côte d'Ivoire for generations, have now fled because of the fighting," she said, adding "we're talking about 200,000 or 300,000 people, and the numbers are growing."
Ms. McAskie said that even in Government-controlled areas, life was not very easy for Ivoirians. "The current attitudes on the Government side are not acceptable," she said, recounting troubling incidents highlighted in the report of the recent fact-finding mission to the region by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. Those included attacks on shantytowns, harassment by police and harassment by young vigilantes who had been authorized by the Government for "self-defence" of certain areas.
After such a brutal conflict and serious tensions that spread through the whole West African region, there was no guarantee that people would just go back to their homes, she added. "We'll have to help the country reconstruct a lot of its services." She said the funding is not where it should be and she will shortly be making a humanitarian appeal for more donor support. Follow-up on the economic impact of the crisis will also have to be undertaken.
Meanwhile, in Abidjan, the Secretary-General's new Special Representative for Côte d'Ivoire, Albert Tevoedjre, has taken up his duties. Yesterday, he held the first follow up committee meeting of the agreement reached among the Ivoirian parties last month in France.