COTE D’IVOIRE: Abobo – after the violence
Posted by African Press International on January 18, 2011
COTE D’IVOIRE: Fresh violence in Abidjan, civilians on the move in the west
ABIDJAN, 13 January 2011 (IRIN) – Two days of bloody clashes in Abidjan, leaving at least nine dead, have prompted fears of renewed post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city as the political stalemate entered its seventh week. Disputed electoral results have left both incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, and his challenger Alassane Ouattara claiming victory in November’s presidential run-off.
Residents in the Abobo district of Abidjan, often described as an opposition stronghold, told IRIN the latest wave of violence began after armed men loyal to Gbagbo carried out a dawn raid on 11 January.
“I was leaving to work around 5am on Tuesday [11 January] when I saw police trucks heading into the area.”, a 28-year-old bank cashier, who introduced himself simply as Traoré, told IRIN. “All I know is there were many of them, at least 10. When I returned, my wife said they had entered all the houses on the pretext of looking for hidden weapons. They took mobile phones, money and roughed up a few people.”
Gbagbo’s youth minister, Charles Blé Goudé, had announced a planned rally in the area on 11 January. Blé Goudé heads the Jeunes Patriotes, a pro-Gbagbo youth group whose violent riots forced the evacuation of several thousand foreigners in 2004, and which has featured on both European Union and UN sanctions lists. The first day’s clashes left three policemen and two civilians dead. But the fighting the following night was more brutal, another Abobo resident said.
Speaking in hushed tones, unemployed mechanic Ta Pi told IRIN: “Around midnight we started hearing bursts of gunfire every 10 minutes. It kept us awake the entire night. It was heavy air weapons or rocket-propelled grenades. Even this morning we were frightened to leave the house.” He gestured at the eerily empty streets of Abobo, where 4x4s filled with policemen passed by at regular intervals. “It is just too much. The psychological wounds inflicted are the worst – imagine being scared to leave your own house.”
A police source who requested anonymity dismissed allegations of heavy-handedness on the part of the police. “All I will say is – four of my colleagues were killed yesterday. But the population keep saying they’re not armed,” he said.
The district of Abobo is in the northernmost part of Abidjan. With a population of over 1.5 million, it is sometime called “Quartier Little Africa” because of its diversity and has provided an important support base for Ouattara. There were reports of a heavy security presence in and around Abobo on 16 December after Ouattara supporters had mobilized to march on the state broadcasting headquarters.
While other districts of the economic capital have remained relatively calm, news of the violence in Abobo spread rapidly. Residents in other areas complain of continuing uncertainty.
Duékoué “in cinders”
Meanwhile, the situation in the west also remained fragile after an outbreak of violence there last week. Despite an apparent easing of tensions in recent days, humanitarian organizations have warned that the situation there is increasingly precarious. “The last few weeks have left Duékoué in cinders”, a resident of the town told IRIN. “People don’t even have a roof over their heads any more. Anyone who can leave the area is doing so because it is just not stable here. The situation is deplorable.”
The Gbagbo government, which still has control of the Ivoirian army, the Forces Armées Nationales de Côte d’Ivoire (FANCI), has sent a mission to the west to control the violence. Mission head Col Vako Bamba said police recorded 15 dead and some 30 wounded in the Duékoué region during three days of violence. “The cost has been enormous both in terms of human lives and material damage,” he told IRIN.
While UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ndolamb Ngokwey has stressed the UN’s commitment to sending more humanitarian personnel into the west, reports from Duékoué point to a continuing exodus of civilians, including hospital workers, while some humanitarian missions in the area are closed down or operating with skeleton staff, struggling to meet needs. Some of those leaving have headed to the town of Man, which is under the control of the rebel Forces Nouvelles.
Makeshift camps are being set up around the outskirts of Man, the president of the General Council of Man, Blaise Blon Siki, told IRIN. “We need all the help we can get here – there are people sleeping in the bush,” he added.
In Bloléquin, another western town some 120km from the Liberian border, 33-year- old cocoa farmer Marie Jean said 30 members of his family had already left for Liberia. “I preferred to stay behind and make the trip on my own – it is easier than leaving in a big group,” he told IRIN. “Everyone is leaving by foot because then you can hide more easily in the bush if necessary,” he added.
The UN Refugee Agency is bracing itself for around 50,000 refugees coming into Liberia as a result of the political fallout. A Bloléquin resident who requested anonymity, warned: “The real number of people crossing the border is going to be much higher than official figures. The fact is, many of those fleeing are old people, women and children, and some of them won’t make the 120km walk”.
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