Death of youth leader stirs tensions in Ivory Coast cocoa belt

ABIDJAN, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Protesters clashed with police in western Ivory Coast’s cocoa belt on Friday after the death of a youth leader, raising the prospect of more disruptions to the harvest.

Nearly 7,000 people have fled illegal plantations and 10 have died in the past month because of land disputes between native groups and migrants from other parts of Ivory Coast and neighbouring countries.

Ethnically charged conflicts over land in Ivory Coast’s fertile west were at the heart of a decade of turmoil that culminated in a brief civil war in 2010-11 that killed more than 3,000 people.

Members of the We alliance from the Guere, Yacouba and Wobe ethnic groups have in recent weeks entered the Cavally and Gouin-Debe reserves and threatened ethnic Baoules and migrants from Burkina Faso farming there, hurting cocoa deliveries.

Violence flared after well-known We youth leader Modeste Nenonhon was shot dead on Thursday in the village of Beoua, the Red Cross and a government spokesman told Reuters.

The house of a local prefect was ransacked by protesters in the town of Guiglo, where many of the farmers have fled, said government spokesman Bruno Kone, adding that an inquiry into the violence and the death were underway.

It was not clear who was responsible for the shooting, but thousands of We demonstrators again took to the streets in the towns of Blolequin and Guiglo on Friday. In Guiglo, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.

“There is a big march to Blolequin and another one also to Guiglo,” said Franck Gaba, an official with the Ivorian Red Cross. “Last night, a vehicle was set on fire in the court where Baoule displaced people are set up.”

Baoule and Burkinabe farmers in the region were on edge, fearing retaliatory attacks after the youth leader’s death.

“We are afraid for our safety in the villages here because ... the youth of the alliance will seek revenge,” said Felix Kouadio, who cultivates seven hectares of cocoa in the Gouin-Debe reserve.

The volume of cocoa beans from the area has already dropped in recent weeks as farmers flee. Continuing tensions could impact more deliveries just as the cocoa harvest picks up pace this month.

The Ivorian Parks and Reserves Office (OIPR) estimates that up to 40 percent of Ivorian cocoa production comes from illegal plantations like the ones impacted by the violence.

Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Edmund Blair