ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s newly-formed military is not ready to conduct security patrols without U.N. and French help as soldiers might be prone to looting on their own, a top Ivorian commander said on Monday.
Fighters loyal to President Alassane Ouattara, including many of the country’s former rebels, toppled former leader Laurent Gbagbo last week after fierce fighting, ending a post-election power struggle.
Those troops now form the backbone of the new Ivorian army charged with securing the country, though the force has been accused of looting, rape and executions during their sweep from the north into the main city of Abidjan in March.
“We will increase patrols, but we need to be careful. If these patrols are not with Licorne (the French military force in Ivory Coast) they will degrade,” said Issiaka Wattao, Deputy Chief of the Armed Forces under Ouattara.
“That is why I prefer to mix these patrols with Licorne, who are respectful guys and they could never steal in front of them,” Wattao said in an interview.
“There will be more mixed patrols with Licorne and the United Nations to reassure the population and convince them it is safe to go out,” he said.
Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan is slowly returning to normal after heavy combat between Ouattara’s fighters and those loyal to Gbagbo, and authorities in the world’s top cocoa grower are hoping for a swift revival of the economy.
But looting remains rife, and Gbagbo loyalists continue to operate in some neighbourhoods, with residents in the northern Abidjan district of Yopougon reporting nightly gunfire.
“What is happening in Yopougon right now, we are negotiating with the militias to make sure they understand that the solution is not war,” Wattao said. “Gbagbo is gone, and it is important they understand they need to put down their arms.”
“Among them, there could be future police, gendarmes, even military, if they agree,” he said.
Gbagbo, who came to power in 2000, refused to step down following an election in November 2010 that U.N.-certified results showed he lost to Ouattara, sparking a bloody standoff that killed thousands and displaced more than a million.
Gbagbo was captured last week and is being held in the country’s north.