Cote d'Ivoire: Displaced in west feel "forgotten

Duékoué, 26 April 2012 (IRIN) - President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire promised paved roads, an end to power cuts and water shortages, better mobile phone coverage, and a new university in the country’s west as part of an “emergency plan” to develop a region that has been steeped in violence and insecurity for a decade. But for some displaced Ivoirians still unable to return to their homes, the promises ring hollow.
Ernest Téhé, 46, a displaced person living in Nahibly camp near the western town of Duékoué, told IRIN he feels the displaced have been forgotten. Some 30,000 people fled to the Catholic Mission in Duékoué after a massacre in March 2011. Earlier this year most of those still at the Catholic Mission were moved to Nahibly, where 4,500 people are currently sheltering.
“We haven’t even been counted as part of the population,” said Téhé. “No authority has come to say, ‘The president is coming. Come, explain yourselves, your concerns - what do you need? What do not need? What’s preventing you from returning home?’”
Most displaced families told IRIN they could not return to their homes because they were destroyed, or because their farms were taken over by other groups and are now being guarded by armed guards or “dozos”.
Téhé comes from a village 5km outside of Duékoué but he has not returned home because his fields were taken over during his absence. “It’s because we’re Guéré,” he says, referring to his ethnic group, whose members overwhelmingly supported the former president, Laurent Gbagbo.
Much of the long-term inter-community conflict in the west is rooted in issues of land tenure, as members of different ethnic groups claim ownership to the same land.
President Ouattara recognized that the west is still very unstable, with forests “infested with armed persons”, which is “not acceptable”. Nonetheless, during his visit to the towns of Toulépleu, Bloléquin and Duékoué he repeated calls for the displaced to return home, and called on Ivoirians to leave it to the justice system to punish those who have committed crimes. He stressed that he is the president of all Ivoirians, regardless of ethnicity, religion or region.
Security: “More needs to be done”
Constant Bohé, president of the committee for returnees in the Carrefour neighbourhood of Duékoué, says he thinks security is no longer a problem in his area. “In our neighbourhood there is no problem, it’s in the surrounding villages that there are armed persons,” he told IRIN.
Olivier Mette Aubin, 50, president of a youth forum in the region, says “more needs to be done”, even though security has improved a lot. “We need security reinforced along the border so that people feel at ease." He has not heard of any recent attacks, but there have been threats. "There are still militia groups on the other side [of the border], and people fear they could attack at any time.”
The United Nations has reported continued cross-border attacks near the town of Tai in southwest Cote d’Ivoire. The latest incident occurred south of Tai on 25 April, killing six people. In September 2011 some 20 people were killed in an attack near Tai.
In March the UN missions in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI) and Liberia (UNMIL) announced they were launching border patrols to ensure the safe return of refugees, and prevent the flow of weapons and cross-border attacks. However, a UN military official, who asked to remain unnamed, said after the announcement they were only devoting 34 troops to patrol the porous 450 mile-long border.
Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) have been slow to roll out. Thousands of illegal weapons are circulating in the country, even though the UN constantly gathers weapons and ammunition.
The Commission for Truth, Dialogue and Reconciliation, launched in September 2011, is still in the “preparation phase” and aside from a mourning ceremony in March, Ivoirians have not seen many signs of it in action.
The president brought a message of reconciliation to towns that were hard-hit in post-election violence last year after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara. “I want everywhere in Côte d’Ivoire, every town in every region, to have clean water, electricity, telephone and television, and this should be done before the end of the year,” Ouattara said during his three-day tour of the region - the first since his inauguration in May 2011.
The villages would not be forgotten, he stressed, promising to install electricity production units in all villages with more than 500 inhabitants. “This region has suffered a lot from the different crises we have gone through in the last ten years,” he said. “We have to make sure the divisions of the past do not ever repeat themselves.”
Many of the towns Ouattara visited opposed his election last year but the president, at least outwardly, received a warm welcome in each town he visited.
“We wanted peace. Peace has come,” says Agnes Zran, 56, from Man in the Dix-huit Montagnes region of the west, who lost a child and her father during “the crisis”, as it is called here. “Now we want him [the president] to help rebuild the dilapidated west.”