* Pro-Gbagbo exiles hire mercenaries from Ghana,
* Ties between Ghana and Ivory Coast have been strained
* Gbagbo backers said trying to recruit Islamists in Mali
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 9 Exiles supporting Ivory
Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo have established a base
in neighboring Ghana from which they are working to destabilize
the current Ivorian government, according to excerpts from a new
report by a U.N. expert panel.
The supporters of Gbagbo, who is in The Hague awaiting trial
for crimes against humanity, have a "military structure," have
hired mercenaries in Ghana and Liberia and have established
several training camps in eastern Liberia, the report said.
"They (Ivorian exiles) have established a strategic command
in Ghana," it said, adding that the exiles' goal was to
"destabilize" the government in Ivory Coast and return to power.
The observations were contained in an interim report from
the so-called U.N. Group of Experts, which monitors compliance
with the Ivory Coast sanctions regime.
The group plans to discuss its report with members of the
U.N. Security Council's Ivory Coast sanctions committee on
Friday, U.N. diplomats said.
Excerpts and information from the report, which also
mentioned some less serious potential violations of the U.N.
sanctions regime by the Ivorian government, were given to
Reuters by a U.N. official and Security Council diplomats.
The experts' findings would appear to add credence to
allegations made by the Ivorian authorities that top military
and civilian officials in the former regime, many of whom fled
across the border at the end of a brief conflict last year, are
continuing their fight against the government of President
Alassane Ouattara from Ghanaian soil.
The experts said that some of pro-Gbagbo field commanders
sported exotic battle names like "Western Tarzan" and "Bob
Ivory Coast announced on Monday that it would reopen its
eastern border with Ghana, more than two weeks after it was shut
over a series of deadly attacks Ivorian officials said were
launched from Ghanaian territory.
Ghana has said the pro-Gbagbo exiles are political refugees
and has promised to help investigate the attacks launched from
its territory, which worsened ties already strained by Accra's
refusal to act on international arrest warrants targeting former
members of Gbagbo's regime issued by Ivory Coast last year.
Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat in a 2010 election won by
Ouattara sparked a brief war last year that killed more than
ATTEMPTS TO RECRUIT MALI ISLAMISTS
The experts' report said pro-Gbagbo supporters were also
looking to operate from Mali, which descended into chaos in
March when soldiers toppled the president and left a power
vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the
country. Islamist extremists, some al Qaeda allies, hijacked the
revolt in northern Mali.
"In mid July 2012, a meeting took place in Takoradi (Ghana)
where various ... groups supporting Gbagbo united their efforts
and defined a course of action with a view of returning to power
in Cote d'Ivoire, including the development of a political and
military strategy to identify possible bases of operations in
neighboring countries such as Mali," the report said.
It said that pro-Gbagbo elements appeared to be attempting
to recruit Islamist rebels in Mali and were also encouraging the
country's military junta to help destabilize Ivory Coast.
The report said there were contacts between Gbagbo backers
and Ansar Dine, an Islamist group among those in control in
northern Mali. Ansar Dine is aligned with al Qaeda and promotes
adherence to strict Islamic law.
Asked why the supporters of Gbagbo, a Christian, would be
aligning themselves with Islamists, a U.N. official told Reuters
on condition of anonymity: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
The West African regional group ECOWAS is planning a
military intervention to end the Islamists' control of northern
Mali, although it has yet to receive the necessary authorization
from the U.N. Security Council. The council has asked ECOWAS for
a clearer outline of its strategy.
The experts' report on Ivory Coast also said Ouattara's
government may have violated the U.N. arms embargo still in
place by importing military radio equipment, uniforms and
It said there had been smuggling too of Ivorian cashew nuts
and cocoa to Ghana, and possibly skimming off of oil revenues.
This was not necessarily financing pro-Gbagbo elements but was
diverting financial resources away from the government.
U.N. sanctions on Ivory Coast have been in place since 2004
and also include restrictions on the export of rough diamonds.