World Bulletin / News Desk
Local authorities in Ivory Coast are striving to completely disarm about 65,000 former militiamen ahead of 2015 presidential elections, amid considerable skepticism on the part of some observers.
"In 2013, our goal was to demobilize 30,000 former fighters. We succeeded in handling 27,000, which is very encouraging," Fidèle Sarassoro, general director of the Authority for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (ADDR), told Anadolu Agency.
About 65,000 militiamen and women were registered at the end of Ivory Coast's 2011 post-election violence, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives, with 72-year-old Alassane Ouattara acceding to power and his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, being whisked to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
The groups were belligerent forces that fought on both sides of the conflict but which now live in a unified country that no longer requires their services.
However, the weapons they still possess – and often use – constitute a threat to public peace, which the government is striving to address through the ADDR.
The state has been criticized for being too slow to disarm these groups, which many locals and international observers believe are behind a growing trend of highway robberies and burglaries across the West African nation.
"It's not an easy task," Sarassoro insisted. "It takes time and care if we must do our work with credibility and integrity."
The government says it cannot employ all former militants who want to join the regular army or police, or work for the government at one level or another in order to get a monthly salary.
Sarassoro said about 600 former militiamen had been squeezed into the customs service, while 2,000 others had joined the prison service and 1,500 were working as civilian fire-fighters.
The rest have been disarmed, trained and equipped for self-employment.
According to the government, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program will cost 92 billion CFA francs (roughly $180 million), to be provided by foreign partners and the UN mission in Ivory Coast, which has also assisted the ADDR in terms of arms collection and training of former fighters.
The greatest concern for all stakeholders, including the UN and former colonizer France, is to achieve complete demobilization before 2015 presidential elections to avoid chaos.
"That is our major fear and also ultimate objective," Sarassoro acknowledged.
"Potential candidates ought to be free to carry out campaigns anywhere in the country, but without total disarmament that cannot be possible," he admitted.
Sarassoro believes the ADDR is up to the task.
"In 2014, we plan to go at the same speed and demobilize 35,000 [former militiamen]," he told AA, adding they planned to carry out follow-up programs to ensure that these former militants had really changed their lifestyle.
However, the ADDR and its officials have been accused of inflating the figures of disarmed fighters to please the government and the international community and portray the country's security situation in a positive light.
Kouadio Mathias, a professor of political science at the Felix Houphouet Boigny University in Abidjan, said that ADDR figures did not reflect the situation on the ground.
"You still have uncountable former fighters who have been imploring the authorities since 2011 to be enrolled in the ADDR program to get some benefits," he told AA.
"But they are still there, unattended to. I can say that those accusing the ADDR of swelling the figures are right," added the expert.
Sarassoro, however, refutes such accusations. He says he can provide a list of the men and women already demobilized, their contacts, and where they now work.
"You cannot just enroll every person that comes to you with a Kalashnikov rifle and says he or she fought before and wants to be demobilized and employed," he asserted.
"There is a thorough process of checking to be sure that those coming to us are true former fighters,"Sarassoro stressed.
The government has received kudos for the vibrant economic growth realized in 2012 and 2013 (9 and 8.9 percent respectively), with a 10-percent growth forecast for 2014.
However, a long-lasting peace is needed for sustainable growth, which authorities believe can only be achieved through the demobilization and reinsertion process.Last Mod: 26 Şubat 2014, 15:02