posted on Wed 23 May 2012 11:24 AM
Council Visiting Mission to West Africa: Côte d’Ivoire

ABIDJAN: On Sunday evening (20 May), Council members began the second leg of their West African mission when they landed in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Shortly after arriving, Albert Gerard Koenders, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), hosted Council members to dinner. Koenders talked about UNOCI’s role in assisting Côte d’Ivoire to restore peace and stability since the post-electoral crisis last year and outlined the priorities for the mission, stressing that security sector reform (SSR) was top of the list. Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants and reconciliation issues were also discussed.

The following day (Monday, 21 May), Council members spent the morning with senior members of the Côte d’Ivoire government. The day started with a meeting with Prime Minister Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio and cabinet members. This was followed by a substantive meeting with President Alassane Ouattara at the presidential palace. Discussions with both the Prime Minister and President covered security, SSR and DDR of former combatants. The reconciliation process, refugees, border security and the Côte d’Ivoire sanctions regime were also covered. Additionally, Ouattara discussed the possibility of local elections by the end of the year (the last such elections were held in 2001).

Meetings with the National Assembly and opposition groups gave Council members a chance to hear from a broad spectrum of political parties. It seems the meeting with the opposition groups clearly demonstrated the strong divisions that exist between the government and opposition. Council members seem to have come out of the meeting feeling less confident about the possibility of political accommodation at this point. The meeting with the civil society groups was apparently less heated although the often contentious issue of land ownership did come up. (The problems stem from land being sold by tribal chiefs either to foreigners or Ivorians coming in from different parts of the country.)

The session with the newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission appears to have left some Council members concerned with how little has been done in this essential area.

In the late afternoon, Council members had a lengthy meeting with ECOWAS, where the discussion centred on the situation in Mali. (For more details, see Monday’s WIB story.)

Council members began the third day of their trip with a ride in a “Dash 7” airplane to the Côte d’Ivoire-Liberia border. They visited Guiglo on the Ivorian side of the border and then travelled across to the Liberian side to visit a UNHCR refugee camp for Ivorians who had fled Côte d’Ivoire due to the post-election violence in 2011.

In his 29 March special report, the Secretary-General stressed the fragile security situation in western Côte d’Ivoire. This is due to the large number of weapons, armed elements, former combatants and militias in these areas. The land ownership issues mentioned above are prevalent in this part of the country. Council members heard from local authorities and civil society representatives in Giuglo and from the refugees in the camp. They were also briefed on the humanitarian and protection of civilians work being carried out by the UN country team in Guiglo. The final meeting of the day was a joint UNOCI/UNMIL briefing on inter-mission cooperation and how the two missions were addressing the broader challenges facing them both.

Many Council members were surprised by how unaffected the physical infrastructure in Côte d’Ivoire was by last year’s conflict. (This was in contrast to Liberia where the effects of the war could still be clearly seen in destroyed buildings.) The conversations with civil society and the refugees appear to have given them a strong sense of the problems that still divide the society. The lack of progress on DDR and SSR issues, as well as the slow pace of reconciliation, is of concern to a number of members. It seems that being able to speak and interact with Ivorians has provided a clearer perspective of the pressing problems still facing the country to many members.

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