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Forces on the ground in Ivory Coast

by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) Dec 21, 2010
Ivory Coast's political crisis has left the fragile West African country home to multiple rival armed groups as it enters a new period of instability in the wake of last month's disputed election.

Herewith is a breakdown of the main players on the front line:

DEFENCE AND SECURITY FORCES (FDS): PRO-GBAGBO

The trump card in strongman Laurent Gbagbo's deck as he tries to cling to power, FDS is the abbreviation given to the Ivorian state's 17,000-strong official military and police forces.

The FDS controls the south of Ivory Coast, below the 2003 ceasefire line that divides the country neatly in two, and is ever present in the commercial capital Abidjan and the main cocoa port San Pedro.

While the whole structure is theoretically loyal to Gbagbo, his power is guaranteed on a daily basis by two elite units: the 1,500-strong Republican Guard and the 2,000-strong Cecos special forces anti-robbery brigade.

These two groups have been in the frontline of Gbagbo's violent repression of challenges to his rule since Alassane Ouattara claimed to have won the November 28 election, and are much feared in pro-Ouattara suburbs of Abidjan.

Republican Guard commander General Dogbo Ble and Cecos' commander Police General Georges Guiai Bi Poin were on the list of Gbagbo allies placed under European Union travel bans this week.

NEW FORCES (FN): PRO-OUATTARA

Gbagbo's rival Ouattara has little military strength in the south, relying on the United Nations for protection in Abidjan, but north of the ceasefire line he is backed by the former rebels now known as the New Forces.

Estimates for the total strength vary wildly, but experts and diplomatic sources think they could put between 5,000 and 10,000 men in the field.

If fighting broke out between north and south, however, the group would be essentially reliant on a hardcore of relatively well-drilled and armed troops under two "zone commanders" with only a few hundred men each.

Cherif Ousmane is in command around the rebel "capital" in the centre of the country, Bouake, and Martin Kofie Kouakou in the northern town of Korhogo. Both have been under UN sanctions since 2006 for their roles in violence.

FN commander Guillaume Soro is based alongside Ouattara in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan with a small armed security detachment, but these troops failed in a bid march out of the hotel last week when they were repulsed by the FDS.

THE UNITED NATIONS: UNOCI

The United Nations Operation in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) fields 7,576 "blue helmets" -- soldiers from volunteer member states -- and 1,336 armed civilian UN police, charged with monitoring the ceasefire and protecting civilians.

Since the election they have also taken on the role of protecting the Ouattara "government", which the UN Security Council as recognised as Ivory Coast's legitimate government.

Some 800 members of the force have set up a cordon of armoured vehicles around the Golf Hotel and have orders to fire back if fired upon. Last week a UN sentry at another Abidjan base shot back when attacked by Ivorian gunmen.

The Gbagbo government has accused UNOCI of taking sides and supporting the FN, but the Security Council has rejected his demand the troops be withdrawn and has asked members to be ready to send possible reinforcements.

The troops are commanded by Major General Abdul Hafiz of Bangladesh. They are drawn from 42 countries.

FRANCE: LICORNE

Only around 900 French troops remain in Ivory Coast attached to Operation Licorne, which once counted more than 5,400, but they remain one of the best armed and trained units in the field.

Essentially serving as a rapid reaction back-up to UNOCI, French ministers have said Licorne could also be deployed to ensure the safe evacuation of the estimated 15,000 French expatriates living in Ivory Coast.

The BPC Tonnerre, a 16,000-tonne warship capable of carrying 450 commandos and 16 helicopters, is sailing off the West African coast and could be in Abidjan within a day's sailing, but officials say it is not yet en route.




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AFRICA NEWS
Frontline Ivory Coast town fears new civil war
Bouake, Ivory Coast (AFP) Dec 17, 2010
In the frontline base town of Ivory Coast's former northern rebellion on Friday, worrying tales of killings in the south revived fears of a return to civil war. Bouake is headquarters of the New Forces, the former rebel movement that was drawn into a power-sharing peace deal but now finds itself backing a president who has been unable to persuade his defeated rival to step down. Under el ... read more

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