Rebel Republican Forces have made a swift advance through Cote d’Ivoire yesterday (30 March) taking the capital Yamassoukro and San Pedro, a key cocoa exporting report according to reports on Bloomberg and Reuters. They have been meeting very little resistance, as soldiers loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo have either joined them or retreated to Abidjan.
The RF have launched a military offensive to support the claim of Alessane Ouattara, who is internationally acknowledged to have won last November’s presidential election but was then blockaded in a hotel and protected by UN peacekeepers after Gbagbo refused to accept the result.
Meite Sindou, spokesman for Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soroare said the RF about 90 kilometres north of Abidjan, in a town called Adzope. Bloomberg this morning quotes an interview with Young-jin Choi, the head of the United Nations mission that the advance has been “much more rapid than expected,” and the troops are within “striking distance” of Abidjan.
Fighting in Abidjan, formerly a top West African commercial centre, has already been fierce and the final showdown could be violent. One million people are reported to have fled their homes. Gbagbo is calling the Young Patriots youth militia to boost his troops. Reuters reports: “The army called on Gbagbo’s often violent youth wing to enlist in the military. They have been fired up with anti-French, anti-foreigner and anti-U.N. propaganda, and on Wednesday, the army started openly handing out weapons to them. They have set up roadblocks all over town and have attacked U.N. staff and killed several West African immigrants and suspected Ouattara supporters, Human Rights Watch says.” Amnesty International on 29 March said armed forces from both sides had committed atrocities.
The international and African communities have not intervened militarily and many civilians have been killed – at least 470 deaths reported – and tens of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries. However, there have been many meetings to discuss the crisis and yesterday the UN Security Council voted to step up pressure on Gbagbo.
Bloomberg says the markets hope the 4-month political crisis may end soon. CI has a €2.3 Eurobond which is in default since missing interest payments on 1 February. On 30 March the bond rallied 7% to 42.688 cents on the dollar, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, breaking out of its range of 36-40 cents for recent weeks. Bloomberg adds that prices of cocoa for May delivery fell to $70 (2.3%) to $2,987 per metric ton by 5:20 p.m. in New York, their lowest in 10 weeks, on hopes that a quick victory could pave the way for a renewal of exports.
There is an international arms embargo in place and on 2 March the UN apologized to Belarus for wrongly saying it had supplied Gbagbo with an attack helicopter – the CI airforce used to have Russian Mi-24 attack/transport helicopters.