- Title: IVORY COAST: State returns, slowly, to rebel north of Ivory Coast
- Date: 25th March 2008
- Summary: VARIOUS OF PEOPLE FETCHING WATER
- Embargoed: 9th April 2008 13:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA961BD08QLHUP59NCAPCZJXG96
- Story Text: Nearly three quarters of the administration staff have returned to Bouake to try and rebuild the state administration in the rebel north, a year after a power-sharing deal brought hopes of lasting peace to a country split by a 2002/2003 civil war.
Being able to sort through mail at a post office in northern Ivory Coast is already a sign that normality is gradually returning to the rebel-held north of the top cocoa producer a year after a power-sharing deal brought hopes of lasting peace to a country split by a 2002/2003 civil war.
The post office in the rebel capital Bouake reopened late last year after a five-year shutdown. Rows of rented post boxes are crammed with dusty envelopes awaiting collection, and staff sift through sacks of undelivered mail dating back to the war period -- including bills from a mobile phone company long since wound up.
Delays in disarming rebel and government troops are likely to force another postponement of elections due by June.
Villagers in this part of Ivory Coast are still getting used to the new administrative services available to them.
"The clients are happy when we give them their letters, in general they are very happy. Our big problem is communication -- they don't know when the post office is open and when they know, they don't know how to access their mail box. They say they have lost the key," director of the post office, Bamba Amadou, says.
Thousands of teachers and medical workers who fled during the fighting have returned to schools and hospitals across the north. Lectures have resumed at Bouake's nursing college, which served as the New Forces rebels' administrative headquarters.
Bouake's Treasury office, located above a betting shop, is once again dishing out monthly stipends to pensioners. Cash machines and fast broadband Internet access are up and running.
"It was difficult to see our country divided. I sense that there is a bit of harmony now, and the administration is returning. We were a bit isolated, there was no medicine and even to get simple official documents you had to go to Abidjan, it was too complicated, much too complicated," says cyber cafe manager Sita Savane.
The reopening of trade routes through northern Ivory Coast to landlocked Mali and Burkina Faso, the region's top cotton growers, has boosted traffic at Ivory Coast's port of Abidjan.
A post-war programme agreed with the International Monetary Fund foresees economic growth doubling to 3 percent this year, helped by the opening of new gold mines near the old conflict frontline, and increased offshore oil production.
But officials tasked with rebuilding state administration in the north face crippling logistical and financial hurdles.
Much of Bouake's public infrastructure was looted or destroyed during the war, causing an estimated $450 billion CFA francs (1 billion USD) damage.
A state commission says nearly three quarters of the 24,437 civil servants who fled have returned, lured by $2,000 bonuses to assuage safety fears in a zone without state security.
Prefect Konin Aka shares the house where he lives and works with two colleagues. Other officials make do with hotel rooms down town for living and office space -- but they may face eviction. At least one hotelier said the government has not paid for their rooms.
"For five years all the state's buildings were practically ruined. They often tell us that the New Forces have vacated the buildings, but even if they left, we have to renovate them, we have to renovate them, that's going very slowly. So many regional directors, many department directors are affected: they're there but they don't have offices to work in," says Aka.
Utility companies are also tightening the screws after supplying northern customers with free water and electricity since the war as a humanitarian gesture.
"We've had a lot of problems collecting bills in this area and couple that with the lack of maintenance, that has led to a deficiency in terms of equipment, which means that today specifically in the town of Bouake we have a lot of water problems," Damas Coulibaly, head of the water company in Bouake says.
But locals have protested, violently on one occasion, saying there are no jobs to enable them to pay the bills. After muddling through the last five years, many residents can ill afford the services coming back to the north.
"We have made proposals to the state that all debts should be erased until the end of 2006. 2007 was not in the proposal. We hope that we will all agree to pay all our bills for 2007," says Bamba Sinima, a New Forces representative.
Under the breakthrough peace deal a year ago, the rebels and government agreed on reunification and holding elections.
President Laurent Gbagbo named rebel leader Guillaume Soro as prime minister and since then some leaders have bragged the country is already reunited.
In truth the state has little clout in the north, despite a visit by Gbagbo in January.
Rebels who control over half the country still cruise the streets in pick-ups emblazoned with snakes and leopards.
State security forces will redeploy in the north only after rebel and government soldiers are disarmed and form a new army.
In the meantime, troops from both sides have formed "mixed brigades" to patrol the former front line where U.N. peacekeepers dismantled a buffer zone six months ago.
Fears of renewed fighting eased after the March 2007 peace deal, but not long afterwards unidentified attackers fired rockets at Soro's plane as it landed at Bouake airport, killing four. The rebel-turned-premier survived the attack.
The New Forces said dissident rebels attacked one of their night patrols in December. But residents heard nothing and U.N. peacekeepers denounced summary executions in Bouake, fuelling popular suspicions of a settling of scores in the rebel ranks.
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