Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Ivory Coast leader appeals for inquiry into cocoa industry

AP , ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has called for an investigation into longstanding accusations that cocoa and coffee boards have embezzled funds meant to aid the producers of the country's lucrative crops, a spokesman said.

Gbagbo has told government lawyers to look into allegations that the boards -- which set prices for crops, oversee exports and provide development assistance -- have used export profits for their own gain rather than for projects to benefit farmers as required by law, according to a statement read by government spokesman Gervais Coulibaly on national television late on Friday.

Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer and a major coffee supplier, has managed to continue a healthy export business despite being split in two when an attempted coup in 2002 sparked civil war and during the last three years of languishing peace deals -- each promising to bring elections and restore democratic rule. Under the latest deal, elections are planned for late next year.

International analysts have long said that the cocoa sector was rife with corruption, and London-based activist group Global Witness issued a report in June charging that more than US$118 million in cocoa funds were used to fund both the government's and the rebels' war efforts.

Hundreds of Ivorian cocoa growers have demonstrated for weeks, demanding to see more of the export profits, and local newspapers alleged that money supposedly sent abroad to build factories has disappeared.

"They don't give account of their management. They are rich. They can look after their children and send them to school in Europe. During the same time, producers have gotten poorer and can't pay to send their kids to school," said Bile Bile, head of a group of discontented cocoa producers.

Last month, the World Bank called for Ivory Coast's government to reform the sectors to increase wages in the plantations.

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