Ivorian minister tells fighters to desert rival

2011-04-25 07:16

The defence minister yesterday ordered fighters loyal to renegade warlord Ibrahim Coulibaly to desert him and immediately join Ivory Coast’s new army.

The defence spokesperson made the threat on television Sunday night after Coulibaly failed to attend a meeting with his longtime rival, Defence Minister Guillaume Soro.

Coulibaly and Soro fought full-scale battles for leadership of the former rebels who propelled President Alassane Ouattara to power after former strongman Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat at November 28 elections.

Soro won those battles, fought in 2004 in the central town of Bouake. Fears of a repeat in Abidjan, the commercial capital that suffered most in the four-month standoff, flared briefly when Soro’s fighters attacked Coulibaly’s in the renegade’s stronghold in Abobo suburb on Thursday.

Soro’s forces were repulsed.

On Friday Ouattara ordered Coulibaly to lay down his arms and Soro’s fighters to return to their barracks in Bouake.

The rivalry between Soro, who is also Ouattara’s prime minister, and Coulibaly is the biggest challenge to confront Ouattara’s fledgling government since Gbagbo was arrested April 11.

Ouattara has little control over the former rebel forces that brought him to power and will form the new Ivorian army by integrating with Gbagbo’s old forces. The former rebels are commanded by five different warlords.

Coulibaly’s aides said he will meet today with Ouattara, whose wife he protected as head of her bodyguard corps from 1990 to 1993 when he was an army chief sergeant and Ouattara was prime minister.

Coulibaly has helped orchestrate two coup attempts in Ivory Coast, including a successful one in 1999, and in the past has indicated his own presidential aspirations, though he has said that he accepts Ouattara’s authority.

The West African nation, the world’s top cocoa producer, has been in crisis for more than a decade. Coulibaly led the 2002 rebellion that divided the country between a rebel-held north and government-run south until Soro forced him into exile.

He re-emerged in Abidjan in January at the head of the “Invisible Commandos” to start the battle against Gbagbo’s forces after soldiers fired mortar shells and rockets into Abobo, a neighbourhood that voted en masse for Ouattara.

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