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Ivory Coast Rebels Advance South, Closing in on Abidjan and Key Cocoa Port

March 30, 2011

bloomberg

Troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of November’s presidential election in Ivory Coast, moved closer to Abidjan and a key cocoa-exporting port, adding to pressure on embattled incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.

The Republican Forces seized at least five towns this week and moved to within 240 kilometers (149 miles) of Abidjan, the commercial capital, after taking the eastern town of Abengourou yesterday, said Meite Sindou, spokesman for Ouattara’s prime minister and defense minister, Guillaume Soro.

“It seems the security forces of Laurent Gbagbo refused to fight when the rebels entered the town,” said Modeste Kouao, a resident of Abengourou.

Until now, the loyalty of the army and police has proved key to Gbagbo’s ability to retain control of much of the world’s top cocoa producer. He refuses to hand power to Ouattara, alleging electoral fraud in the election on Nov. 28.

“Militarily, Gbagbo is weak,” said Rinaldo Depagne, a Dakar-based analyst for International Crisis Group. “If he wants to stay, he’s got to put all the forces he has in Abidjan and he’s got to try to stop the progression of rebels inside Abidjan. Inside the army you’ve got mass desertions and mass divisions.”

Taking Cocoa Towns

The Republican Forces have stepped up their military campaign in the past month, mainly in the western cocoa- producing region, taking the towns of Duekoue, Guiglo and Daloa in the past few days, Sindou said. Duekoue sits on a major north-south transit corridor linking the west with the port of San Pedro.

“Except in Duekoue, there was no real resistance,” Sindou said. The fighters also seized the central-west town of Zuenoula, he said late yesterday.

“We are staying hidden at home for now, but we can hear the rebels shouting for joy,” said resident Alexandre Dje Bi.

The insurgents’ advance boosted Ivory Coast’s defaulted dollar-denominated bonds to their highest in at least two months yesterday, rallying 4.2 percent to 39.875 cents on the dollar at 7:51 p.m. in London. The yield fell 31 basis points to 8.6 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Cocoa for May delivery fell to the lowest in more than two months, declining $191, or 5.9 percent, to $3,057 per metric ton at 2:57 p.m. in New York.

“Gbagbo is isolated financially, politically, and now he’s losing ground militarily,” said Drew Geraghty, a commodity broker at ICAP Futures LLC in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Traders are taking this as a sign that the risk premium is coming out of the market.”

Rights Violations

The Republican Forces trace their roots to an uprising of mutinous military officers in 2002, which led to the division of the country into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south. The election was meant to unify the country, which was once the second-biggest economy in West Africa.

“All parties to the conflict have committed serious human rights violations including unlawful killings and rape and sexual violence against women,” U.K.-based Amnesty International said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Rebels fired on and missed a United Nations helicopter that was flying over Duekoue on March 28, the UN mission in the country said in a statement.

Lass Com, a spokesman for the fighters, said troops thought the helicopter belonged to Gbagbo.

“There was a lot of confusion,” he said.

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  1. June 7, 2011 at 11:59 am
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