Ivory Coast generals pledge loyalty to president
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Five generals pledged their loyalty to President Alassane Ouattara on Tuesday following the capture of the country’s strongman leader after a four-month standoff, as French and Ivorian forces worked to eliminate the last pockets of resistance.
Ouattara’s spokesman Patrick Achi confirmed that the generals who had been fighting on Laurent Gbagbo’s side right up until his capture swore allegiance before Ouattara one by one at the Golf Hotel, where he set up his presidency after Gbagbo refused to acknowledge losing the November presidential election.
Doh Ouattara, a member of the security team at the hotel, said Gbagbo, his wife and entourage were in a suite there. He said the lower-level officials traveling with Gbagbo had been sealed inside the bar of the luxury hotel.
But U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Gbagbo had been moved by U.N. peacekeepers to a different, unspecified location outside of Abidjan.
“He is no longer in the Golf Hotel,” Haq said, adding, that peacekeepers were “working with the Ivorian authorities to ensure that he continues to be safe.”
More than 1 million civilians fled their homes and untold numbers were killed in the more than four-month power struggle between the two rivals. The standoff threatened to re-ignite a civil war in the world’s largest cocoa producer, once divided in two by violence nearly a decade ago.
Armed fighters still prowled the streets of Abidjan even after Gbagbo was arrested by forces backing Ouattara. Residents said that most of the combat had ceased Tuesday, though sporadic gunfire continued and left people cowering in their homes.
Meanwhile, pro-Ouattara fighters sipped French champagne in celebration, while another proudly wore a short black wig he said belonged to Gbagbo’s wife, Simone.
In the country’s south, celebrations of Gbagbo’s arrest continued Tuesday in the cocoa-exporting port of San Pedro. People blocked the a double-lane highway as they sang, danced and chanted, “Gbagbo is a thief.”
Women created a new dance using tree branches as brooms and sang: “We have swept out Gbagbo. We are ready to welcome A.D.O., our president,” referring to Ouattara by his initials.
Meanwhile, a top Gbagbo ally accused pro-Ouattara forces of pillaging the homes of political rivals.
“I’m getting calls of distress from all over the city from party members who fear for their lives,” said Gbagbo’s former foreign minister, Alcide Djedje. “I myself was forced to flee my house when looters in uniform broke in. While the looting was going on, I managed to hide at the neighbors’ until the U.N. peacekeepers came to get me.”
Gbagbo’s security forces have been accused of using mortars and machine guns to mow down opponents during the standoff. Gbagbo could be forced to answer for his soldiers’ crimes, but an international trial threatens to stoke the divisions that Ouattara will now have to heal as president.
Ouattara cut short speculation that Gbagbo would be delivered to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, calling for an Ivorian investigation into the former president, his wife and their entourage. Ouattara also called on his supporters to refrain from retaliatory violence and said he intended to establish a truth and reconciliation commission.
“Every measure has been taken to assure the physical integrity of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and all those arrested,” he said. “They will receive dignified treatment and their rights will be respected.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France-Info radio that France “will certainly not take (Gbagbo) in. Let’s not complicate things.” Gbagbo had previously spent years abroad in France before coming to power as president.
The former colonizer also said Tuesday it would scale back its military force in Ivory Coast and give €400 million ($580 million) in aid to restore public services and boost the country’s economy.
In Geneva, U.N. human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the office had learned that an unspecified number of Gbagbo’s forces had been arrested.
“It is unclear where they were taken and how they are being treated,” she said. “Our human rights staff in Abidjan are looking into this and monitoring it. International fair trial standards include the need to press charges as soon as possible after arrest.”
Gbagbo, who ruled the former French colony for a decade, was pulled from his burning residence by Ouattara’s troops Monday following fighting earlier in the day. The pro-Ouattara forces had received support by French tanks and helicopters.
Gbagbo’s dramatic arrest came after days of heavy fighting in which French and U.N. helicopters fired rockets at arms depots around the city and targets within the presidential compound. Ouattara’s final push began just after French airstrikes ceased at around 3 a.m. Monday. A simultaneous French armored advance secured large parts of the city, and pro-Ouattara troops entered the presidential compound just after midday.
Ivory Coast was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-2003 civil war and was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal. The long-delayed presidential election was intended to bring together the nation but instead unleashed months of violence.
Gbagbo already had overstayed his mandate by five years when he called the fall election and won 46 percent of the runoff vote. When the country’s election commission and international observers declared on Dec. 2 that he lost the balloting, he refused to step down.
The former history professor defied near-universal international pressure to hand over power to Ouattara. The two set up parallel administrations that vied for control of the one-time West African economic powerhouse.
Ouattara drew his support from the U.N. and world powers. Gbagbo maintained his hold over the country’s military and security forces who carried out a campaign of terror, kidnapping, killing and raping opponents.
Associated Press writers Rukmini Callimachi in Indianapolis; Michelle Faul in San Pedro, Ivory Coast; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Frank Jordans in Geneva; Angela Charlton in Paris; and photographer Rebecca Blackwell in Abidjan contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press