Ivory Coast: October 3, 2002

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The situation in the Ivory Coast remains fluid and confused, since all of the telephone lines are down in the north and contacts can only be made on cell phones. The standstill on the battlefield - as previously reported by the international press - doesn't match Ivory Coast State radio and television broadcasts, which are reporting clashes between government troops and rebel forces around Bouak. The Italian Catholic news agency MISNA also reported fighting along the Tiebissou to Sakassou and Tiebissou to Bouak roads. 

On 2 October, AFP reported the capture of the cities of Segel, Katiola, Bouna (along border with Ghana and Burkina Faso) and Kong (about 120 miles west of Bouna). MISNA claims these are not real conquests, but merely rebel forces seeking alternative routes to the Ivorian commercial capital of Abidjan. During their bypass, the rebels avoid French and loyalist barricades around Tiebissou, encountering little resistance by the few gendarmes left and enrolling sympathetic youths from the villages. 

The rebels captured the village of Sakassou (25 miles south of Bouake) on the 1st but were stopped from advancing east by French soldiers on an evacuation mission. A French military spokesman noted that while the army had not stopped anyone, they had set up a security perimeter of 13 miles around the official capital, Yamoussoukro. He said the rebels were still 30 miles from the city.

Meanwhile, the situation grows worse for both the civilians who have become refugees and those left behind. Food supplies are dwindling in Boake, Adibjan and Korhogo, while hospitals and other care centers were reportedly closed.

So why would France care so much about one of it's former colonies? While the safety of it's citizens is laudable, the real motivation for wars usually lie behind the question "who benefits?". Western Europe reportedly consumes over 40 percent of the chocolate sold worldwide and the EU imports about 90 percent of it's cocoa from West Africa, mainly the Ivory Coast. The chocolate trade is worth some $3 billion a year across the European Union. 

Cocoa shortages had already sharply driven prices up this year by about 60 percent and if the fighting continues, could exacerbate poor supplies of cocoa beans for the third consecutive year. Although the main cocoa-growing areas are in the south and the west, production could be affected by growing tension between immigrant cocoa plantation workers from Burkina Faso and Ivorians. Analysts say the next three months are vital, as the bulk of the crop is shipped between October and the end of December. Reuters reported that fuel shortages and a ban on tanker-truck travel into the interior had virtually brought the Ivorian cocoa industry to a halt, hitting both buyers and exporters. Do the math, then watch for more Legionnaires. - Adam Geibel 


 

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