ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara on Friday ordered soldiers from all sides of the country’s conflict to return to their barracks in an effort to restore stability.
Ouattara won a post-election power struggle when his rival, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to cede power, was arrested last week. The main city of Abidjan remained awash with fighters and violence simmered.
Experts from the West African central bank (BCEAO) visited Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer, to see how quickly the banking system can be revived and France said it would send a plane load of medical aid.
“As commander-in-chief of the army, I order you to pull all combat units to their barracks and bases of origin, whether that is in the north or the south,” Ouattara told senior generals from all sides in a meeting on Friday.
“Combat units must return to their barracks and law and order will be maintained by the police and gendarmes.”
After months of unsuccessful diplomacy, pro-Ouattara forces, dominated by rebels who have controlled the north since a civil war in 2002-2003, swept into Abidjan at the end of March but were bogged down for days in fighting with pro-Gbagbo loyalists.
A breakthrough was made after French and U.N. helicopter gunships destroyed Gbagbo’s heavy weapons, allowing Ouattara’s forces to enter Gbagbo’s compound and arrest him.
However, Ouattara was struggling to hold together his fractured alliance, as well as to neutralize lingering pro-Gbagbo militia holding out on the Abidjan neighborhood of Yopougon, where there was heavy fighting this week.
Residents said Friday was relatively calm.
The head of Abidjan port said its quays were undamaged and open for business, although trade volumes would not pick up until security and financing improved.
Once the envy of West Africa, a region plagued by conflict, Abidjan was turned into a war zone by heavy fighting in the last weeks of the post-election stand-off.
France was due on Friday to send a plane carrying 25 tonnes of medical supplies worth 225,000 euros to make up depleted stocks at Ivory Coast’s hospitals and pharmacies.
Another pressing issue for Ouattara was reviving the economy, not just for Ivorians whose banking system shut down weeks ago, but also for neighbors for whom the country is an important transit point.
Regional central bank experts arrived in Abidjan this week to assess the damage. The bank would not say when banks might re-open, although some government officials have suggested the end of next week as a possibility.
“We know people are impatiently waiting for (the banks) to re-open but it has to be done calmly for it to be done properly,” a senior official in a French bank told Reuters after meetings with the central bank team.
Cheered by crowds, two convoys of armored vehicles carrying cash drove from the airport toward the central bank’s headquarters on Friday, giving hope to Abidjan residents.
Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Andrew Dobbie