Security Council mission to West Africa - Ambassador Wittig's blog - Day 4: Cote d'Ivoire/Liberia
Tuesday 22 May, 2012
This was field-trip-day. We wanted to have a look at the security and humanitarian situation in the Liberian-Ivorian border region. Before leaving, the Council had an ideologically charged discussion about the appropriate attire - what does "business casual" really mean? In the end only France and Germany wore a tie ("l'alliance franco-allemande") - to pay the necessary respect also to the refugees!
The group flew in two Canadian "Dash 7" aircraft. Ours was a built back in 1982 and had seen better days. The journalists, who flew out before us, got the brand-new model. They must have felt that - at long last - justice was done...
The Liberian-Ivorian border area has been marred with violence throughout recent history: because of chronic absence of state authority, land issues between ethnic communities and the presence of fighters from both countries. The authorities on the Ivorian side told us that the security situation had much improved and criminality was down. However, in the meeting with the civil society the women groups clearly differed: they said the whole region was awash with weapons - and that especially women felt insecure and threatened.
We asked about the success of the "DDR-programme (disarmament, demobilisation of combattants and reintegration). The answer was an eye-opener: only six weapons had been collected so far! So much for the acclaimed disarmament-progammes!
Enticing normal citizens or fighters to give away their weapons in such an environment is a real challenge - unless it is coupled with strong incentives: jobs or money. In the future we will have to look at "DDR"-programmes very carefully to make sure that they do work.
On the Liberian side of the border we visited a refugee camp run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Around 95.000 Ivorians are still living in neighboring countries, mainly in Liberia. Speaking to the refugees one senses little will to return. Their confidence in the Ivorian government is very low. Many of them belong to the Gbagbo-camp, which was defeated in the post-electoral fighting roughly a year ago. They fear reprisals. The camp is providing them with food and medical treatment. Will it become a permanent settlement - as has happened in so many other crisis areas? Probably yes, if the trust and economic perspectives of the refugees don't improve.
One of the underestimated tools of the UN-mission ONUCI might help: the UN-radio "UNOCI FM". It gives a realistic account of the current situation and inspires confidence in the refugees to return. As all other stations are biased and tied to political camps, the UN-radio is almost the only source of objective information. "UNOCI FM" is on air 24/7 (including music programmes) and quite popular in this country of radio-aficionados!