Côte d'Ivoire

Mistrust high hurdle in west

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DUEKOUE, 5 May 2011 (IRIN) - As President Alassane Ouattara begins his term after disastrous post-election violence, many people in the town of Duékoué, in western Côte d'Ivoire, distrust and even fear the national army, Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI).

Daniel* still carries an identification card marked "Patriotic Group for the Defence of Duékoué", a group that took up arms when rebels - now a large portion of the FRCI - turned against Laurent Gbagbo in 2002 and eventually occupied half the country. Duékoué lies just south of the territory that fell to the insurgents.

On a recent morning IRIN saw Daniel hand his identity card to a friend before walking about town. "If the FRCI were to find him with this card, we're not talking imprisonment - he would be killed on the spot," said the friend, who is among the thousands - mostly of the Guéré ethnic group - taking refuge at Duékoué's Catholic mission.

Duékoué has long been known as a base for pro-Gbagbo militia; it is unclear how many armed Gbagbo militants may still be active here. Sidiki Konaté, FRCI national secretary and Ouattara government representative in the west, said militia are flowing in and out of the mission site and hiding arms.

But many Guéré in Duékoué and in the nearby town of Guiglo told IRIN that some FRCI soldiers do not make the distinction between combatants and ordinary Guéré citizens, and this makes them feel threatened.

People who said they had witnessed attacks told Human Rights Watch that FRCI soldiers had clearly targeted Guéré civilians during their offensive in March 2011.

"In village after village investigated by Human Rights Watch, Republican Forces combatants killed, raped, and pillaged the predominantly Guéré population," the organization said in a report released on 9 April. [ http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/04/09/c-te-d-ivoire-ouattara-forces-kill... ]

Konaté said the government welcomes a thorough investigation into violence in the west of the country and recently named a prosecutor to work on the probe.

"Our military"

Unease is palpable among people trickling back to the Duékoué neighbourhood known as Carréfour - known as a pro-Gbagbo community - where today rotting bodies and the charred frames of homes remain from a 29 March attack. Residents say it was carried out by groups allied to the FRCI, with FRCI support, hours after pro-Ouattara forces took control of the town.

When IRIN asked Madeleine Denali, president of a Carréfour women's group and one of thousands of residents working to resume their lives, what it would take to make people feel safe again, she said: "It's hard to say, now that the other soldiers dominate. We don't know if our military [pro-Gbagbo groups] can stand up to them."

Displaced Carréfour resident Olivier Ziaď said: "The international community recognizes the FRCI, but pro-Gbagbo [people], when they talk about 'our military', are talking about FDS [the Gbagbo government's security forces] and allied groups who defended Duékoué."

He said it is as if Côte d'Ivoire, at least in this region, has two armies. "The population here sees the FRCI as the forces who attacked [Carréfour]. They are traumatised, and they don't see the FRCI as their army."

Residents said traditional hunters known as "dozo" were among the attackers, and the new government should rein in such groups. "People wanted to make a distinction - It was dozo who attacked Carréfour, not the FRCI," said Boké Constant, head of a neighbourhood restoration committee. "But we see them as all part of the same team."

Ziaď said the government must make a committed and long-term effort to bring about order in the armed forces.

FRCI official Konaté acknowledged that some people in Carréfour either mistrust or fear the FRCI, and said the forces would continue to talk with and work with the population. He added that some residents prefer to continue looking to pro-Gbagbo militia for protection.

He said FRCI is collaborating with the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) to secure the Carréfour population. "This is one way we can respond. We must ensure security through our actions - that cannot be done just by words."

There might be grounds for people's fear of being persecuted for their ethnicity or political orientation.

An FRCI soldier on a motorcycle stopped to ask IRIN and NGO staff what they were doing in Carréfour. An aid worker indicated the water and sanitation work and other efforts to help people return to their homes.

"Yes, there was a lot of damage here, but they brought it on themselves," the soldier said. "Don't let these people lie to you. Given that we [new authorities] are decent and forgiving, we will allow you to help them."

*not his real name

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