RAPAPORT… On the eve of a meeting between the United Nations (UN) and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, security remains a priority ahead of local elections and following an outbreak of violence in March. The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will assist with security in the region, as well as address the sources of this new round of conflict, according to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Côte d’Ivoire, Albert Gerard Koenders.
Koenders said that UNOCI and UNMIL reinforced their patrols after an attack by armed elements in Petit Guiglo, in Côte d’Ivoire’s western region. Blue helmets have deployed to Petit Guiglo and are supporting Ivorian forces and protecting civilians through ground and air patrols.
Residents of Cote d’Ivoire are preparing for local elections on April 21. The 2010 presidential election resulted in months of violence when former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing to Alassane Ouattara, who finally took office in May 2011.
“If you have elections then tensions will rise,” said Koenders, who is also the head of UNOCI. “Our mandate is to assist Ivorian actors to ensure that in all those different constitutes there are peaceful elections, and also calling on politicians to remain calm and really have open and free and transparent elections.”
UNOCI provides technical support to the polls through the independent electoral commission. It has also supported the reunification and stabilization of Cote d’Ivoire, which remains under a rough export ban by the Kimberley Process, while UNMIL supports Liberia, which is permitted to trade diamonds. The Security Council extended its mandate on Cote d’Ivoire by one year to July 2013, but it is possible this could be extended yet again, according to UNOCI.
“We are slowly in a situation of transition in the mission,” said Koenders. He depicted UNOCI as focusing on four factors: security, confidence-building, human rights and job creation. As a peacekeeping mission, Koenders said, UNOCI is creating a “security net” for Ivorians to take over their security with less assistance from the UN.
The UN is also assisting capacity-building measures to better unify the army and to create more confidence between the army and the gendarmerie. Koenders noted that the Mission’s work in support of respect for human rights and equitable justice, which “requires an investment and political willingness from Ivorian authorities with support in a technical way from us.” He added that justice must be equitable and “independent of the political affiliation of those who are suspected of serious crimes.”
Economic growth in Cote d’Ivoire is predicted to reach 9 percent this year, Koenders said, “but in many areas it is important [that] the people see the difference.”