Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast leader bolsters security ahead of polls

By Peter Murphy

ABIDJAN, June 17 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo bolstered the country's military presence in the troubled west and in the main city Abidjan on Friday, saying he wanted to ensure elections could go ahead as planned in October.

Gbagbo appointed a military governor for the west of the country, where more than 100 people were shot, hacked or burned to death in ethnic violence two weeks ago, and said a rapid intervention force would be set up in the main city Abidjan.

"Security is the best way of assuring elections go ahead as the constitution of our country prescribes," Gbagbo said in an address broadcast on state television.

"We are going to re-establish the overall authority of the state and restore the normal security and humanitarian situation for the people of the west," he said.

The clashes around the western cocoa-rich town of Duekoue, the worst to hit Ivory Coast for months, raised fears of a slide back into a civil war that has killed thousands of people and threatened to draw in volatile neighbouring countries.

The violence cast a pall over a fragile peace process aimed at reuniting the world's top cocoa grower, split in two since rebels seized the north of the country in September 2002 following a failed attempt to oust Gbagbo.

The president said the new military governor would be based in Duekoue and would be in charge of all army, gendarmerie, police and customs officers in the region.

"Substantial logistical means will be put in place as soon as possible to facilitate the movement of our men," he said.

Military prefects in other western towns would help people return to their villages and cocoa farms and would take "all measures" to restore calm ahead of the elections, Gbagbo said.

He also said Abidjan would be split into five zones, each with its own rapid intervention unit of soldiers and military police which residents could call on day or night to combat "unbearable" levels of insecurity and violence in the city.

Ethnic tension has also spread to the east of the country, where such clashes are less common, with at least 150 people chased from their homes by rival ethnic groups who threatened to burn down their villages, residents said on Friday.

Around 100 people were sheltering in the courtyard of a local government office in Alepe, some 50 km (30 miles) northeast of the main city Abidjan, after fleeing the hamlets, where scores more people were still waiting for transport out.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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