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In Ivory Coast, the Great Cost of Conflict

Unidentified troops in the city of Abidjan Friday
Unidentified troops in the city of Abidjan Friday

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Ivory Coast gained independence from France in nineteen sixty. It grew into one of the wealthiest countries in West Africa through cocoa exports and foreign investments.


But its latest political crisis has come at great cost. The United Nations says several hundred people have been killed since early December. As many as one million have fled their homes, mostly in Abidjan, the main city. Some have fled west to Liberia or east to Ghana.

On Friday, the UN human rights office expressed concern about unconfirmed reports of kidnapping and abuse of civilians by fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara. He is the internationally recognized winner of the presidential election last year. But President Laurent Gbagbo refuses to accept the results.

A UN human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, said most of the reports were from western Ivory Coast.

RUPERT COLVILLE: "Initially, most of the abuses, if not all the abuses, were by the forces in support of Laurent Gbagbo, former president. But recently there's been an increase of retaliatory attacks by people on the other side, including a slightly mysterious group called the Invisible Commandos who've been operating against Gbagbo."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said civilians trapped by the fighting have been unable to get food, water or medicine. The Red Cross has appealed for an additional sixteen million dollars to help people entering Liberia.

Fighters loyal to Mr. Ouattara moved into Abidjan on Thursday after a quick offensive through Ivory Coast. Pro-Gbagbo forces surrendered the airport to the nearly ten thousand United Nations peacekeeping troops in the country.

Mr. Ouattara called for the support of all government troops.


The country is calling you, he said.

Years ago, Alassane Ouattara lived and studied in the United States. He received a doctorate in economics at the University of Pennsylvania in the early nineteen seventies. He worked for the International Monetary Fund and the Central Bank of West African States.

Mr. Ouattara, who is Muslim, was born in central Ivory Coast in nineteen forty-two. He served as prime minister in the early nineteen nineties. But questions about his citizenship kept him out of the presidential election in two thousand.

Laurent Gbagbo was born to a Catholic family in the south in nineteen forty-five. He attended Paris' Sorbonne University and later spent time in exile in the French capital. In nineteen seventy-one, he was arrested in Ivory Coast for "subversive teaching." He continued his activism after returning in nineteen eighty-eight.

The former history professor came to power in two thousand as a supporter of full democracy. But hopes for a new kind of African leadership fell as elections were repeatedly postponed.

Mr. Gbagbo himself became president after a disputed election and political unrest. But after two years he faced a rebellion in the north. A peace treaty in two thousand seven led to the presidential election last year. Mr. Gbagbo won the most votes in the first round but not a majority. He refused to accept defeat in a runoff election against Mr. Ouattara.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: David Gollust, Julia Ritchey and Scott Stearns