ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s main opposition party on Thursday accused the government of a campaign of repression against supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo, using attacks on soldiers and police as a pretext.
Around 20 people, most of them soldiers, have been killed in the raids, which have revived the specter of unrest in the world’s top cocoa grower, still deeply divided a year after a brief civil war that claimed more than 3,000 lives.
President Alassane Ouattara’s government blames the violence on Gbagbo’s backers and has arrested a number of people including leading members of Gbagbo’s FPI party.
“In the course of these operations ... the acts committed are invariably the same,” the party said in a statement read to journalists. “Beatings, extortion ... torture to extract confessions to back up the thesis of an FPI plot against Ouattara or force the pro-Gbagbos to quit the FPI, rushed judicial procedures on far-fetched accusations.”
Last year’s conflict erupted after Gbagbo refused to recognize Ouattara’s victory in elections in late 2010 and step down as president. Gbagbo is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity committed during the violence.
Most of his leading political and military allies are either in jail in Ivory Coast or living in exile after fleeing the country at the end of the war.
The FPI has denied any involvement in this month’s attacks.
“We have done nothing wrong ... We cannot accept being made the scapegoats in a war for position among the regime’s supporters,” said FPI president Sylvain Miaka Ouretto, adding that the party was ready for dialogue with the government.
Ouattara’s government has presided over a series of successes in the year since it assumed power, turning around Ivory Coast’s stagnant economy, launching major infrastructure projects and restoring security in most of the country.
However, the recent raids have, for the first time since the war ended, brought fighting back to Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s lagoon-side commercial capital.
The government has said the violence aims to frighten the population and scare off the foreign investors trickling back to a country once the economic motor of Francophone West Africa.
The defense and interior ministers have said the raids are the work of a network of Gbagbo’s supporters, including exiled members of his regime and army, Liberian mercenaries, and serving military personnel.
“There’s no sense in playing a double game by carrying out subversive action and at the same time calling for reconciliation,” Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi told Reuters in an interview last week.
“We don’t want any more conflict or war. Now if they don’t hear this message, then I think they are committing terrorism, and we are going to treat them like terrorists,” he said.
Those arrested in Ivory Coast include Alphonse Douati, the FPI’s deputy secretary-general and a former minister, and Laurent Akoun, the party’s number two. Former budget minister Justin Kone Katinan, one of about two dozen exiled Gbagbo allies targeted by international warrants, was arrested in Ghana.
A number of soldiers, accused of serving as accomplices during the attacks, are currently in custody.
Liberia has also arrested a number of suspected mercenaries and Ivorian militia members accused of involvement in cross-border attacks.
Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by David Lewis and Kevin Liffey