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Ivorian warlord says he will disarm

Says president’s order will take time to organize

By Michelle Faul
Associated Press / April 24, 2011

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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — A renegade warlord in Ivory Coast said yesterday that 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 yesterday, General Ibrahim Coulibaly said that one could not just dispose of arms in the streets.

He spoke from his heavily armed stronghold within Abobo, a poor neighborhood 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.

On Friday, President Alassane Ouattara ordered Coulibaly, who led two coups in Ivory Coast and commands the Invisible Commando force, to lay down arms or be forcibly disarmed.

Ouattara also ordered all combat units back to their barracks — the former rebel forces who installed him in power back to their stronghold in the central city of Bouake, and troops who fought for former president Laurent Gbagbo back to their old military camps.

Ouattara said that regular and paramilitary police will be redeployed to take over security.

“He said lay down your arms,’’ Coulibaly said. “We will lay down our arms. It is not a problem.’’

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.’’

Coulibaly, who began the battle against Gbagbo’s troops and militia in Abidjan, said he wants his forces to join the new army but is waiting to be invited.

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 tried to distance himself at first from the former rebels fighting in his name when they began a lightning assault that brought them from Bouake and the west to the gates of Abidjan within days. They had been accused of atrocities during the offensive.

But when his pleas for an international intervention to force Gbagbo from power went unheeded, he adopted them as his forces and now calls them the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast.

All groups in the bloody four-month electoral conflict are accused of killing civilians, looting, and burning homes.

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.

Also yesterday, thousands of people from the mainly Muslim quarters of Abobo cheered when a commander told them the war was over at a gathering called by forces backing Ouattara.

Commander Sofi Dosso, leader of the traditional hunters who live in tropical rainforests, said his forces were “ready to help disarm those who disobey the president’s commands.’’

Despite Ouattara’s call to return to their barracks, Dosso and others still gathered in an area of Abobo near the town hall. Several fighters holding AK-47s were also in the crowd.

“The war is over,’’ Dosso said. “We don’t want to hear any more gunshots in Abidjan.’’

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