A UN panel of experts has warned that violence may escalate in Ivory Coast, particularly in the north, as parties are rearming despite an UN arms embargo imposed since 2004.
“Despite the arms embargo, the parties to the conflict remain sufficiently heavily armed to engage in sustained armed hostilities and some are rearming,” said a letter from the experts that was sent to the president of the UN Security Council. “Should the political situation in the country deteriorate, and the economic interests of some parties be threatened by events, the Group [panel of experts] cannot exclude a situation in which armed violence may escalate rapidly, particularly in the north.”
The panel said that it had obtained “physical evidence that suggested a consistent pattern of violations of the arms embargo” in the cocoa-rich former French colony in west Africa.
It voiced concern that the “number, age and condition of weapons that are presented for inspection [to the UN mission in Ivory Coast or the panel of experts] frequently do not accord with the weapons that are visible on the streets in the hands of various security forces.”
And the panel reminded UN member states of the importance of “taking appropriate measures to sensitize their respective government institutions to prevent the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms or any related material” to Ivory Coast.
“Before transferring weapons, including surplus weapons, to a state in the [west African] region, the Group urges exporting states to consider carefully the willingness and ability of the recipient state to take all necessary measures to prevent illicit transfer, including the authenticity of its end-user certificates,” it noted.
Last October, the UN Security Council renewed for another year its arms embargo and diamond trade ban, as well as targeted sanctions on personalities seen as obstacles to peace in Ivory Coast.
It said the measures could be lifted once free and fair polls were held.
Respect of the embargo is being monitored by the UN force in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) backed by about 1,800 French troops.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, was sliced in half after a September 2002 coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo.
In March 2007, Gbagbo and his former foe, ex-rebel leader Guillaume Soro, now the country’s prime minister, signed a peace deal brokered by neighboring Burkina Faso.
Last January, the Security Council extended for six months the mandate of ONUCI and the French forces backing it “in particular to support the organization of free, open, fair and transparent elections.”
But it reduced the level of ONUCI’s authorized military personnel from 8,115 to 7,450 and urged the Ivorian political actors to agree on a “new and realistic [election] time frame,” including a final date for the presidential poll.
Ivory Coast has put off presidential elections several times since Gbagbo’s mandate ran out in October 2005, the most recent postponement from a planned date of Nov. 30.
The reason for the latest delay was said to be the slow pace for getting identity papers to all eligible voters, a process that began on Sept. 15.