Saturday, July 21, 2007

Assassination Attempt on Rebel Leader Raises Tension in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- As he watched children and teenagers play soccer in the courtyard of apartment buildings with faded facades, Moussa Damiba recalled better days here.
Lots of white people lived in these buildings before the crisis, the 32-year-old said. "The crisis" is the catch-all term used to describe the years of instability, defined by a coup d'etat, a country-dividing civil war and political violence.

But Damiba worries about the future too after last month's attempted assassination of Guillaume Soro, the leader of the rebel New Forces who is now Ivory Coast's prime minister. When Soro's plane landed in Bouake, his stronghold in the rebel-controlled north, it came under rocket attack, killing four people.
"Everyone is afraid again," Damiba said. "It's bizarre."
The greatest fear for Ivorians is the prospect of the peace process breaking down.
Soro only joined the government of President Laurent Gbagbo in April after years of seeking its overthrow. That happened after the government and the New Forces signed the Ouagadougou agreement a month before, which ended the political deadlock that engulfed Ivory Coast in 2006.

The two sides set an election deadline for early 2008 without setting a specific date, and they reached compromises on disarmament of armed groups and identifying the millions of undocumented Ivorians.
No wonder the rebels have taken care not to blame anybody for the attack. Siratigus Konate, a spokesman in Soro's office, said they are waiting for an investigation to be carried out to determine who is responsible.
More importantly, the government now wants an independent and international inquiry, having made a request for one to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Still, there is no shortage of speculation about the identity of the attackers.
Appia Kabran, a vice-president in the pro-Gbabgo National Congress of Resistance for Democracy, believes it was "professional" in its organization and execution.
It's not an attack a small army could have perpetrated, he said, though he did not suggest who might be able to pull off such an operation.
Nord-Sud Quotidien, an Ivorian daily newspaper linked to the opposition, reported earlier this month that the commandos who carried out the attack were trained in Guinea by foreign military experts. But the daily also mooted other options such as Gbagbo, the New Forces or Soro's former comrade, Ibrahim Coulibaly. Known here as IB (ebay), he now lives in Benin and could be plotting a return.
"He is not our problem," Konate said. "The problem of the prime minister is to lead the country to peace."
However, the attempted assassination has complicated Soro's mission. Politicians and analysts agreed the attack, which all described as "serious," would have an affect on Ivory Coast.
"The immediate impact will be new delays in the implementation of the Ouagadougou agreement, [which are] already worrying," said analyst Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group.
That view, hardly optimistic, seems downright positive compared with the concerns of Alphonse Djedje Mady, secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast.
"Every single time we have this problem, it stops the peace process," he said. "We have to deal with this matter correctly so the peace process doesn't get out of hand."
One way to achieve that, according to Yabi, is to quickly discover who is responsible and why they attacked. Should that happen, the unmasking carries its own set of risks, depending on who is blamed.
"If it appears that it comes from the New Forces or a former faction of the New Forces, the effect on the Ouagadougou agreement can be contained," said Yabi. "If it appears that it comes from Gbagbo's side through a manipulation of some New Forces, the consequences will be completely different and destructive."
Echoing that view, Daniel Balint-Kurti, an associate fellow of London-based Chatham House, said a few unknown individuals acting on their own will not matter all that much.
"But if they say it was Gbagbo, if they say it was the French, if they say it was IB, and then they conduct a purge as they've done in the past, then they're throwing the current process into disarray," he said.
However, there is another alternative: Perhaps the identity of the attackers will never be known. If that is the case, then Yabi said the lack of resolution will have killed the small amount of trust between the parties.
Yet Konate remained relentlessly optimistic about the chance for peace.
"We are working for the democracy in Ivory Coast," he said. "We are working for the stability in Ivory Coast."
Sadly, some Ivorians, including Soro's would-be assassins, are not.

World Politics Review | Assassination Attempt on Rebel Leader Raises Tension in Ivory Coast