GAGNOA, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - Ivory Coast started withdrawing 2,000 soldiers from northern rebel-held zones on Tuesday, redeploying them in the main city Abidjan ahead of results from Sunday’s presidential election, the army said.
Ivory Coast’s closely contested run-off on Sunday was marred by sporadic violence, intimidation and some irregularities, observers said, but the U.N. mission chief said these were isolated and the vote was generally democratic.
The electoral commission had only released a handful of results from Ivorians abroad on Monday evening, but said it would release more on Tuesday.
The election is meant to draw a line under years of political and military stalemate since the war of 2002-2003 split the country in two.
Tensions are rising as Ivorians await the results and Abidjan saw sporadic clashes between rival supporters before polling day.
“The elections have finished, so we are asking our troops deploying in the CNO zones (centre, north, west, which the rebels control) to come back to their bases in the south,” operations chief Colonel Rene Sacko told Reuters.
The soldiers had originally been based in Abidjan.
Cocoa exporters in the country have shut down operations due to tensions surrounding the wait for results.
Both parties and U.N. mission officials should know the results by now.
Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo called for results from three northern regions to be cancelled late on Monday, alleging intimidation by the New Forces rebels who control the north and whom he has accused of backing his rival, Alassane Ouattara.
Ouattara’s camp have also complained about the election in Gbagbo’s stronghold in the west, but have not yet said they will mount a formal challenge.
Much may depend on the decisiveness of the win.
“It is arguably easier to persuade the parties to accept handling the outcome if the margins are big,” said a Western diplomat who is following the process.
The diplomat added that the endorsement of the voting by the U.N. mission chief, who must sign off on results, was key. “Any party that wants to challenge the results will have to challenge this analysis. This was an important message.”
Cocoa prices have shrugged off the tensions, with traders saying the market was focussed on prospects for a good 2010-11 harvest and betting that any disruption would be short-term.
They were down at n London to 1,853 pounds at 1025 GMT, after falling the day before.
The election was intended to heal ethnic and regional divisions between north and south that lay behind the war, but appeared simply to highlight those divisions.
Observers said turnout was 65-70 percent, down from the first round when more than 80 percent of the 5.7 million voters cast ballots.
Additional reporting by David Lewis and Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Giles Elgood