- Title: IVORY COAST: Former rebels call for President Laurent Gbagbo's militias to disarm
- Date: 11th February 2010
- Summary: VARIOUS OF REBEL COMMANDER ISSIAKA OUATTARA (NICKNAME - WATTAO), DRIVING A LUXURY MOTORBIKE
- Embargoed: 26th February 2010 12:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAEKB6UK3SYQWV3D8DAW1J8LIP0
- Story Text: Former rebels concerned disarmament process not going as scheduled are pushing for disamament of President Laurent Gbagbo's militias. Opposition fears militias may intimidate voters and accuses Gbagbo of manipulating voter lists to his advantage.
Working from his welding workshop in Bouake, former rebel Drissa Traore hopes he will never have to touch a weapon again.
He's been registered in the Ivory Coast's programme of reintegration of former rebels for two years, and has built a small ironmonger business from which he supports his wife and son.
"These days when I see people in military uniform while I'm at work, I'm very afraid. Before, when I was taking part in the rebellion, that didn't mean anything to me, but today if they ask me to touch an automatic weapon, I'm very afraid of that," said Traore.
"I pray to God so that the war doesn't start again, I want it to finish now, so everybody is free to follow his business. When you are free you can do everything you want, the family is there when you get back from work, and everybody is happy to see you," Traore said.
In a statement on their website, Ivory Coast's ex-rebels called for militias loyal to their former foe President Laurent Gbagbo to be disarmed.
The rebel New Forces have controlled half of the territory of the world's top cocoa grower since a 2002-3 war that began with a failed coup attempt against Gbagbo.
Under a deal signed in Burkina Faso in 2007, their leader Guillaume Soro became prime minister of a transitional government until elections that have been repeatedly postponed.
That agreement also laid out steps for disarming rebels and pro-government militias. The New Forces say all rebels have been disarmed apart from 8,000 security forces who will help keep the peace in long delayed polls expected this year.
Some militiamen loyal to Gbagbo have had their weapons taken away, but others remain active.
Issiaka Ouattara, who runs the Bouake regional programme of reintegration of demobilised rebels says that even the rebels who had given up arms are not all able to get the help they need to start afresh in a new job.
Ouattara said disgrunted rebels may still disrupt elections and intimidate voters.
"You see, the people who have taken up the weapons, if they are not properly reintegrated, clearly, with the elections coming up, they will feel they have been abandoned and excluded, so they could stand in the way of the peace process, or even to the elections," Issiaka Ouattara said.
But not far from Ouattara's office, his namesake, another Issiaka Ouattara has other ideas.
Screeching in on a Kawasaki Ninja motorbike and revving its engine with a wrist bedecked in gold bracelets, Ivorian rebel commander Issiaka Ouattara known in Bouake as 'Wattao' feels no shame about the wealth he's amassed from war.
More than seven years of political stalemate and turmoil have been lucrative for the commanders of Ivory Coast's rebellion since a divisive 2002-3 civil war split the world's top cocoa growing nation in two.
"I don't think the war will come back because, you know because no matter what people may say, the Ivorian man has understand that we don't have the right to spill blood anymore, it's true, that poses a lot of problems. But I know that we will find a solution; because from a military point of view we are very advanced on the ground. If, as before, us, the soldiers, we were still enemies, that could have led to the start of the fight, but we've passed that, and I don't think the soldiers are ready to fight again,'' 'Wattao' told Reuters in his back garden, taking a seat in front of his brand new Porsche Cayane with no number plate.
Gbagbo is embroiled in a dispute with the electoral commission president and opposition party member Robert Mambe, whom he accuses of trying to add 430,000 names to the final roll whose identities have not been not cross checked.
The dispute has cast the electoral process into turmoil, scuppering the latest end-February or early March deadline for polls that were originally meant to happen in 2005.
Critics accuse Gbagbo of deliberately seeking to discredit the process to extend a stalemate that benefits him -- he has remained president for nearly five years with no mandate.
The rebel commanders, meanwhile, are accused of profiting from vast smuggling fiefdoms they can only maintain while the country remains divided, and they face an uncertain future in a peaceful, united Ivory Coast.
Political tensions are rising in Ivory Coast as the country looks set to miss yet another deadline for elections meant to smooth a way out of more than seven years of crisis.
On Monday (February 8), lawyers for Ivory Coast's electoral commissioner, Robert Mambe, an opposition politician, accused Gbagbo's party on Monday of trying to manipulate the voter registration process to his advantage.
He has thus far refrained from attacking Gbagbo or his aides directly.
"When the prosecutor says: it's written black on white that Mambe and the CEI (Independent Electoral Commission) have done an illegal deal, it's intoxicating, it's aimed at poisoning the minds of the Ivorian people. It's not a good thing, we don't need this," said Mambe's lawyer, Jeannot Kouadio The row over voter names has highlighted questions about Ivorian nationality that still fester years after the country went to war over them. Xenophobic sentiment is easily stirred and Gbagbo's supporters have said they think the disputed names may have included migrants from Burkina Faso and Mali.
"I can tell you that we haven't integrated on the electoral list any of the 429,000 people without them actually presenting themselves to us in person, and following the right electoral process that has been described in detail," Mambe said.
And as an election meant to reunite slips further away because of a row over voter registration, neither party to the conflict seems in any rush to resolve it.
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