* Abidjan-based bourse serves eight West African nations
* Gbagbo troops seized central bank’s local arm last month
By Tim Cocks
ABIDJAN, Feb 10 (Reuters) - West Africa’s stock exchange re-opened on Thursday after closing for a day when forces loyal to disputed Ivorian incumbent Laurent Gbagbo invaded its central Abidjan office, traders and bourse officials said. The bourse trades shares in nearly 40 companies, including Senegalese telecoms company Sonatel, Burkina Faso’s main telecoms operator, Onatel, and Unilever’s Ivory Coast affiliate.
A spokesman for Gbagbo’s military said he knew nothing of any forces having being sent to the BRVM stock exchange, which happened two weeks after pro-Gbagbo forces seized the West African central bank’s local office.
Gbagbo is embroiled in a dispute with Alassane Ouattara over who won a Nov. 28 election, with U.N. certified results showing Ouattara won but Gbagbo refusing to step down. He has since used the military to entrench his position and crush dissent.
The trader, who declined to be named, said around a dozen Ivorian paramilitary gendarmes armed with automatic weapons entered the stock exchange on Wednesday. He said some demanded cash from the vault, but backed down when they realised there wasn’t any.
The exchange serves the eight countries of francophone West Africa’s CFA franc zone. Its official line on the website was that the temporary closure was due to “technical problems”.
“The soldiers with Kalashnikovs came in. They wanted to see if we had any cash. They didn’t seem to understand that the BRVM doesn’t function like a bank counter, with liquidity,” he said.
But a BRVM official said the soldiers had been sent by the finance ministry after hearing rumours it might try to relocate to another country in the region.
West Africa’s monetary union has cut off Gbagbo’s access to state accounts at the central bank, saying it recognises Ouattara as president, to which Gbabgo responded by seizing the bank’s Abidjan branch to appropriate local reserves, forcing the bank to close its Ivory Coast operations completely.
“The security forces were sent by the minister of finance ... the minister wanted to be assured that the BRVM ... has no intention of relocating to another country,” the official said.
Army spokesman Babri Gouhourou said by telephone: “This is the first I’ve heard of it, so I can’t give a comment.”
BRVM’s management has complained that it is hard to work without any contact with the central bank, raising fears amongst Gbagbo’s isolated government that it might try to move. (Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Greg Mahlich)