Armed supporters of the winner of last November's election, Alassane Ouattarr, now call themselves the Republican Forces. Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo still has most of the armed forces, and many armed supporters in the south. But the Republican Forces not only have the moral high ground, they also have better morale. International sanctions against Gbagbo, and the fact that the November election made it clear most Ivorians want Gbagbo out, have given the Republican Forces an edge on the battlefield. Thus the government (Gbagbo) forces are being pushed out of some parts of the capital, Abidjan. Republican Forces are closing in on a key crossroads town (Duekoue) near the Liberian border. Because of the UN arms embargo, Gbagbo depends on this Liberian connection for smuggled ammo and weapons, as well as mercenary gunmen. With Duekoue gone, that access will be severely limited. So far in the last month, the Republican Forces have captured five towns like Duekoue. Government troops put up a fight, but they always lose.
Since the civil war began nine years ago, the rebels have improved their fighting skills, and maintained high morale. The government troops have suffered lots of desertions, more dependence on mercenaries, untrained (but armed) civilians and eroding morale. Gbagbo is seen as corrupt and a demagogue. He gives rousing speeches and steals everything in sight. Most Ivorians are tired of this. Particularly hated is the violence and destruction the armed Gbagbo supporters tend to carry out. As a result of this, nearly a million Ivorians have been forced to flee their homes. Nearly a hundred thousand have fled to neighboring Liberia. There have been several thousand casualties from the post-election fighting. The 11,000 peacekeepers prevent many areas from being fought over, as the peacekeepers literally keep the peace in many areas. For example, Alassane Ouattarr and his staff live in a Abidjan hotel, guarded by UN troops. Elsewhere in the city, Gbagbo occupies the presidential palace, and his supporters use most of the government buildings. Gbagbo's men stay clear of the UN peacekeepers, as attacking these professional troops could bring the UN forces into active combat against the Gbagbo fighters. This would be disastrous for Gbagbo, who depends on fewer than 20,000 armed men to keep him in control of southern Ivory Coast. This combination of professional soldiers and armed volunteers can barely slow down the rebel forces, and would be overwhelmed if the UN peacekeepers joined in the fight.
Republican Forces fighters are annoyed that NATO has intervened against a dictator in Libya, but not against the one in Ivory Coast. The difference is that Libya has oil, while Ivory Coast only has most of the world's chocolate. Moreover, the bad guys were winning in Libya, while the bad guys are slowly losing in Ivory Coast. The price of success is steep.
Gbagbo is increasingly receptive to some kind of compromise. In other words, he wants a safe way out of the country and a prosecution-free future in someplace where he can spend the fortune he has acquired through over a decade of corrupt rule. Many of his key supporters sense this as well, which explains the uninspired performance of his armed supporters. Another complication is that not all the armed groups fighting Gbagbo are pro- Ouattarr. The UN fears that if the election dispute is not settled soon, the center and southern part of the country could descend into years of factional fighting. That could have an impact on the price of chocolate, which has dropped a bit from its recent record high of $3,700 a ton, to $3,400. Ivory Coast is the source of most of the world's chocolate.
March 27, 2011: Republican Forces advanced in three areas. Columns of armed men in vehicles moved into the towns of Duekoue, Bondoukou and Daloa.
March 25, 2011: It's been a particularly bloody week, with over 50 dead and several hundred wounded. This amounts to about ten percent of all the casualties in three months of fighting. A major cause of the increase has been Gbagbo troops using their mortars and machine-guns to fire blindly into areas filled with lots of civilians, and very few Republican Forces gunmen.
March 23, 2011: ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) met to discuss armed intervention in Ivory Coast. It was agreed that this was too expensive, and might go on for a while. So ECOWAS again criticized Gbagbo and asked him to leave.
March 22, 2011: Republican Forces have captured another town (Blolequin).
March 21, 2011: The UN told Gbagbo that peacekeepers had spotted the attack helicopter and truck mounted rocket launchers government forces had obtained, and if these weapons were used, peacekeepers would be ordered to come after Gbagbo.
March 19, 2011: President Gbagbo called for his young supporters to join the army, and thousands have turned out to do just that. This has been done before, and many of the recruits are simply given a rifle, quickly shown basic operation of the weapon, and taken off to war. These untrained recruits tend to flee the first time they are fired on, or quickly get killed if they try and fight back.
March 16, 2011: Government troops used mortars to fire on an Abidjan suburb that had come out for the Republican Forces.
March 15, 2011: Alassane Ouattarr offered Laurent Gbagbo a coalition deal, in which Gbagbo and his followers would have positions in a new national unity government. Gbagbo refused.
March 12, 2011: Government forces tried to drive armed Ouattarr supporters out of the capital, Abidjan, and failed.