Youths loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo threw up barricades and burned tyres in a crowded, poor suburb of Cote d’Ivoire’s largest city on Monday as a crucial effort to identify some 3.5 million undocumented Ivorians failed to unfold as planned.
The youths, known as Young Patriots, prevented vehicles from circulating in the Abobo neighbourhood and said no hearings to establish citizenship should take place until northern rebels disarmed.
Monday’s delay was one more interruption in a fraught effort to reunify the divided country and end its civil war.
The process barely kicked off last Thursday in Abidjan and only a trickle of people showed up at public hearings in the city throughout the weekend. Hearings were supposed to begin across the nation on Monday.
One magistrate overseeing hearings in Abobo blamed the weak turnout on heavy rain and threats made against those seeking citizenship at the weekend.
Said applicant Kady Traore: “I came to have an identity document. While coming, some youths in my neighbourhood threatened me but I wasn’t afraid.”
The identification process is key to holding UN-backed peace-sealing elections that are scheduled for next October, but likely will have to be postponed. New voters could help determine the outcome of the election.
President Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) denounced the hearings as an effort to inflate voter rolls in favour of northern rebels and said it would oppose the registration exercise “by all means”.
The rebel New Forces failed to show up at a meeting on Saturday of key signatories to Cote d’Ivoire’s peace agreement. Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny had called the gathering to help move the registration process forward.
But the rebels said in a statement on Monday that the identification hearings had begun as planned in the northern half of the country under their control. "The New Forces want to reassure the prime minister ... of their commitment to create the conditions for the hearings being held in their zones to succeed."
On Sunday, Gbagbo accused the UN of being biased in favour of northern rebels. In a broadcast speech, Gbagbo said the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI) was quick to denounce his supporters, the Young Patriots, but kept silent on the disarmament of rebels.
Establishing who is Ivorian is a key step in the implementation of a UN peace plan to end the civil war that broke out in September 2002 and reunify a country where some 750,000 people have been displaced and three million are receiving humanitarian assistance.
Some 10,000 UN and French peacekeepers monitor a buffer zone between the rebel-held north and government-held south.
Millions of West African migrants established their homes in Cote d’Ivoire in recent decades to work on cocoa and coffee plantations. But a fall in world prices for those commodities in the late 1990s, as well as other factors, slowed the country’s economy, leading to resentment against immigrants.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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