Despite considerable progress since the end of the violent post-election crisis two years ago, Côte d’Ivoire still faces significant threats to its long-term stability, including the presence of armed elements, transnational crime, terrorism, piracy, and a security sector in need of reform, a top United Nations peacekeeping official said today.
“Some of the major threats identified include political dynamics and remaining deep divisions, the continued existence of networks affiliated with the former regime aimed at destabilizing the Government [and] the reported presence of mercenaries, former combatants and other armed elements along the border with Liberia,” Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, told the Security Council.
He was presenting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the West African country, where a 2010 presidential election, meant to be the culminating point in a long-running UN peace process, resulted in months of violence when former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing to Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Gbagbo finally surrendered in April, 2011.
Summarizing the report, Mr. Mulet stressed the need for the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) to remain in the country – where it was first mandated nine years ago to support reunification and stabilization after the nation was split by civil war in 2002 – but with various reductions and adjustments.
In his report Mr. Ban recommended that UNOCI, whose military strength was 9,552 personnel in March, be reduced by at least one battalion as of 31 July to 8,837, comprising 8,645 troops and staff officers and 192 military observers, with a further gradual reduction of two more battalions by mid-2015, depending on the situation on the ground.
Other threats that Mr. Mulet enumerated included the uncontrolled circulation of weapons, slow progress in reconciliation and security sector reform, halting progress in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, divisions within and among the security agencies, continued human rights violations by formal and informal security agencies with impunity, intercommunity violence, land conflicts and poverty.
“The incidence of sexual and gender-based violence remains of particular concern,” he added, noting UNOCI’s core priorities would include the protection of civilians, support for security sector reform and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants, and help in addressing border security challenges.
He noted that Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia had taken further steps to enhance cross-border cooperation after an attack last month by armed elements in Petit Guiglo, in Côte d’Ivoire’s western region, where UN peacekeepers are supporting Ivorian forces and protecting civilians through ground and air patrols. Security is a primary concern as Ivorians prepare for the local elections this Sunday.
In his report, Mr. Ban welcomed improvements in security in the border area and the enhanced cooperation between the national authorities, but stressed that preserving stability along the border cannot be achieved by security measures alone, but must be accompanied by tackling the root causes of the Ivorian conflict, as well as new grievances including land-related issues.
He commended Mr. Ouattara’s leadership and personal engagement in addressing security challenges, accelerating economic recovery, and advancing other processes critical to achieving peace and long-term stability.
“The Government’s gestures towards the opposition and its engagement in direct discussions with the former ruling party are encouraging. I urge both parties to intensify these discussions with a view to paving the way for political reconciliation,” Mr. Ban wrote.
“It will be important that all political parties occupy their legitimate political space and participate constructively in the political life of the country, including by ensuring conditions conducive to the widest possible participation in the upcoming local elections.”