A renegade warlord in Ivory Coast said Saturday he was ready to lay down his arms as ordered by the new president, but said it would take time to organize.
In an interview with The Associated Press Saturday, Gen. Ibrahim “IB” Coulibaly said that one could not just dispose of arms in the streets. He spoke from his heavily armed stronghold within Abobo, a poor neighbourhood in Ivory Coast’s largest city Abidjan. He arrived at the interview in a three-car convoy, guarded by a missile launcher set up on the back of a pickup truck.
President Alassane Ouattara on Friday ordered Coulibaly, who led two coups in Ivory Coast and commands the Invisible Commando force, to lay down arms or be forcibly disarmed.
When asked why then he has so many arms around his stronghold, Coulibaly said: “You don’t dispose of arms in the street. There has to be a strategy.”
He told the AP that he has 5,000 men under his command. But the number appears under 1,000 from AP assessments at his Abobo headquarters and a college there where his commanders are training recruits.
Ouattara’s orders to disarm and return to barracks came two days after the former rebels attacked Coulibaly’s Invisible Commando force in his stronghold in Abobo, but were repulsed.
All groups in a bloody four-month electoral conflict are accused of killing civilians, looting, burning homes and extorting money. On Wednesday, former rebel forces turned their guns on each other in the southwest cocoa port of San Pedro, forcing U.N. peacekeepers to intervene when they started launching rockets and mortars in the city’s downtown area.
Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer and second largest coffee grower, had been divided between a rebel-held north and government-run south since Coulibaly launched a rebellion in 2002.
Infighting among the rebels forced Coulibaly into exile until his Invisible Commando mysteriously emerged in Abidjan this year. Those battles were won by Guillaume Soro, now Ouattara’s prime minister and minister of defence, who remains a bitter rival of Coulibaly.
Both Ivory Coast and France, the former colonial power, have issued international arrest warrants against Coulibaly, who was one of the leaders of a December 1999 coup that brought Gen. Robert Guei to power.
Coulibaly 47, was convicted in his absence by a French court for recruiting mercenaries in France and plotting a failed 2003 coup to oust Gbagbo. At the time, Coulibaly said the case was a plot to prevent him from running in presidential elections Gbagbo called for 2008, then delayed. Source
Ibrahim Coulibaly, also called “IB”, may be the major problem for Ouattara now that Laurent Gbagbo is locked in a secured and remote place and that most of his loyal men have rallied behind the new army. Coulibaly recently appeared to be the man behind the “Invisible Commando”, a heavily armed militia which fought against Gbagbo’s army since January. They now control a part of the heavily populated neighborhood of Abobo.
The problem seems to be that Ibrahim Coulibaly, who never hid his political ambitions, feels that he deserves much more than just being incorporated in the new Republican Army. When everyone expected him to join the FRCI after Gbagbo’s men were defeated, the Invisible Commando did not put down the weapons. Instead, gunfight have been reported between the Invisible Commando and the regular army. They now appear as an independent militia with political motivations.
For a long time, Coulibaly has been a destabilizing element in Côte d’Ivoire political and military history. He was involved in most of the military turmoil, including the 1999 coup, the 2002 rebellion, the attempt to assassinate Soro and many others. Here is a short abstract from the newspaper “Soir Info”:
In fact, everything started in December 24, 1999, with the first coup in the history of Côte d’Ivoire. Bédié regime was overthrown by some “young people”. Among them was IB (Ibrahim Coulibaly). He was introduced as one of the men behind the rise to power of the late General Robert Guei.
IB was at the heart of the political transition until the night of September 17th to 18 th 2000, the head of the military junta accused IB of wanting to assassinate him. Complicity was, so to speak, turned into fierce adversity. Newspapers have name the story the “conspiracy of the white horse.” In order to get rid of him, Robert Guei appointed him defense attaché at the Embassy of Côte d’Ivoire in Canada. But IB did not take the post. Came the elections of 22 October 2000. Laurent Gbagbo came to power. Less than three months later, on the night of January 7th to 8th 2001, the name of IB appear in another attempt to destabilize the country. The press talks about the “conspiracy of the black Mercedes” (Lida Kouassi Moise, Minister of Defence at the time, had indicated that the men behind the attack were in a Mercedes). Since then, reports attest of the presence of IB in Burkina Faso from where he is preparing another attempt to come to power….
On September 19th 2002, Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo were simultaneously attacked. The attempted coup turns into rebellion. Many observers saw the hand of IB in his actions to destabilize the regime of Laurent Gbagbo.
I am curious to see how Ouattara is going to solve the “IB problem”. The military option has already been tested to get rid of the Invisible Commando but failed. After four months of urban guerilla, they seem to have total military control of their area. International forces would not want to get involved in such a situation which will result in much more civilian casualties than their previous missions.
A political option may be possible, but would be inconsistent with his policy of integrating the different forces into a new national army. If Coulibaly is given a political role -which will probably not happen as long as Soro is Prime Minister- more warlords may threaten to keep on fighting if they do not get the same.
The new Ouattara government, likely to be created within the next three to four weeks; will probably indicate the axis his security policies will follow.