Ivory Coast youths rush to enlist with Gbagbo forces

2011-03-21 13:38

Fervent backers of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo streamed to enlist in his armed forces today as the United Nations faced pressure to do more to protect civilians in soaring post-election bloodshed.

Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power after disputed November polls, is seeking to boost his army and quash efforts by fighters backing internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara to seize the economic capital Abijdan.

Several hundred youths waited in front of the headquarters of the army chief of staff this morning to sign up.

“I want a Kalach (nikov) to defend my country,” said Cyprien, a mechanic from Yopougon, a suburb known as a bastion of support for Gbagbo.

Shoemaker Theodore told AFP: “I answered the call of ‘General’ Ble Goude. I am ready to die for my country and drive out the rebels.”

Ble Goude, Gbagbo’s fiery youth minister known as “The General of the Streets” for his ability to draw and stir up massive crowds, urged young men to join the fight on Saturday.

“I ask all the youth of Ivory Coast who feel able, who are ready to die for their homeland, who can no longer accept the humiliation suffered by the Ivory Coast, to present themselves on Monday at 7am to the army chief of staff to enlist in the army in order to free Ivory Coast from these bandits,” he said.

A spokesperson for Ouattara said the call to arms was a sign of Gbagbo’s increasing desperation.

“Arming the youth is suicidal, it is leading the youth to the slaughterhouse,” Anne Ouloto said yesterday.

Ble Goude, who leads the “Young Patriots” – the most militant and fervent Gbagbo supporters, said the newly enlisted youth would not be part of any “militia” but be under the control of the army chief of staff.

But observers questioned the training and weapons to be supplied to the recruits, who are unfamiliar with military discipline or the law of war, including the protection of civilians.

Fears have heightened of civil war in the world’s top cocoa producer amid escalating post-election violence which the UN estimates has killed at least 440 people.

Gbagbo’s forces have been blasted for possible crimes against humanity for mortar attacks which killed up to 30 civilians on Thursday in a market in Abobo, an Ouattara stronghold that has become the epicentre of the violence.

Pressure is mounting on the 10?000-strong UN mission in Ivory Coast (Unoci) to take stronger action to enforce its mandate to protect civilians, who are bearing the brunt of the bloody tug-of-war for the presidency and fleeing the violence in their thousands.

Their work has been hindered by open hostility from Gbagbo’s camp which has demanded its departure, accusing the mission of supporting Ouattara.

Pro-Gbagbo state television station RTI all day presents the Unoci as “enemies of Ivory Coast”, detailing the nationalities of west Africans working among peacekeepers.

Ouloto said yesterday that Unoci “has the human and logistical capacity to protect civilians. We ask the UN to move fast, the people are in danger. It must take its responsibilities.”

“We can’t understand that the international community has mobilised for Libya and can’t take firm decisions on the Ivory Coast. It must be done immediately, it is a question of life or death,” she added.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Saturday said the UN mission “must play its role more effectively”, and that its mandate permitted the use of force to protect civilians.

Once seen as the economic miracle of west Africa and a beacon of stability in a troubled region, Ivory Coast was plunged into turmoil after an attempted coup in 2002 against Gbagbo.

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