Racketeering plagues west Ivory Coast

2013-07-02 08:54
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

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Abidjan - The army and paramilitary police in Ivory Coast conduct large-scale racketeering of travellers in the west of the country, an unstable region badly shaken by post-electoral violence two years ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Monday.

"Security forces routinely and openly extort money at roadblocks in the western part of [Ivory Coast]," the New York-based NGO said, after visiting villages and talking to 82 victims and witnesses to the demands for money.

"The roadblocks, ostensibly in place to address insecurity in the face of cross-border incursions and banditry, have become a lucrative, criminal venture for soldiers and gendarmes," the HRW report said.

"[Such] abuse threatens economic livelihoods and food prices in a region already devastated by the 2010-2011 post-election crisis," which claimed an estimated 3 000 lives, it added.

The typical "road tax" demanded varies between $0.40 for people riding bicycles to between $2 and $4 for vehicles.

Witnesses said that members of the security forces beat people who refuse to pay, including a young man whose arm was fractured and spent three days in a hospital.

In several cases, the security forces forced people to remain at a checkpoint for hours, even overnight, until the driver could get someone to bring money to pay them.

Drivers of motorbikes and transport vehicles described the extortion as organised, suggesting the practice was systematic from one checkpoint to the next, and HRW researchers saw traffic being routinely stopped until the illegal toll was paid.

'Crack down on extortion'

"Even people seeking medical care have been targeted. In one case, the delay may have contributed to the death of a three-year-old child," HRW said.

The child's father was on his way to hospital, lacked the money demanded and was forced to walk to the nearest village to borrow some. His son did not reach hospital alive.

Despite early promises by the government of President Alassane Ouattara "to crack down on extortion at checkpoints, it continues in full force in that part of the country", said Ivory Coast HRW researcher Matt Wells, calling for further steps to be taken.

The rights organisation acknowledged that there had been an improvement on major roads between cities and in the region of the commercial capital Abidjan, according to road users.

Members of the security forces have also been arrested and charged with extortion, but such measures have yet to reach the west.

For the past two years, the west has also been the theatre of attacks often blamed on followers of former president Laurent Gbagbo who are based in neighbouring Liberia.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about new attacks by Gbagbo supporters in a report presented last week to the UN Security Council.

Read more on:    hrw  |  un  |  alassane ouattara  |  ban ki-moon  |  laurent gbagbo  |  ivory coast  |  west africa

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