UN says Ivory Coast’s parliament head stockpiled weapons

United Nations experts say Ivory Coast’s rebel leader-turned-parliament speaker Guillaume Soro obtained tonnes of weapons during 2011 civil war

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

A soldier loyal to Alassane Ouattara wears an antique gas mask as he waits to deploy with other soldiers at a checkpoint at one of the principal entrances to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Wednesday, April 6, 2011.

Ivory Coast’s Parliament speaker Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader, used the 2011 civil war as a chance to obtain hundreds of tonnes of weapons, many of which remain under the control of his loyalists in the army, according to UN investigators.

Soro, frequently referred to as a potential successor to President Alassane Ouattara, was the head of New Forces rebels who occupied the northern part of Ivory Coast for nearly a decade. The rebel group also backed Ouattara during the 2011 post-election conflict.

"The Group (Group of Experts on Cote d'Ivoire) documented the acquisition of relevant quantities of weapons and ammunition, estimated at 300 tonnes, by the (New Forces) in the aftermath of the post-electoral crisis," the UN report released on Monday said.

"The above-mentioned arsenal includes materiel brought into (Ivory Coast) in violation of the sanctions regime that is not yet under the full control of the military," the report continued.

Soro, under the Ivorian constitution will assume the presidency were Ouattara to die or become incapacitated while in office, denied the accusations.

"(The investigators) are mediocre jokers," he said, "All that's left is for them to accuse us of having weapons of mass destruction."

Former president on trial

Other weapons stocks were found by the UN at a former military training school in Bouake - previously the New Forces' de facto capital - and on the premises of Soro's close protection unit in the commercial capital Abidjan.

Some 3,000 people died during the war in Ivory Coast, which erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat by Ouattara in late 2010. Gbagbo is currently on trial before the International Criminal Court and is being accused of crimes against humanity.

According to the investigators, the stockpiles include weapons seized by the rebels from Zone Commanders group who are Gbagbo loyalists, as the rebels swept south with French and UN military backing to support Ouattara's claim to the presidency.

"Although most of the former Zone Commanders have been integrated into the military, they continue to have independent political and financial influence," the report said.

Ivory Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo faces four counts of crimes against humanity duting the trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, January 2016.

Other weapons discovered under the control of former rebels now integrated into the army as senior officers bore the serial and lot numbers of arms shipments imported by neighbouring Burkina Faso between April and August 2011.

Gbagbo's allies have long accused Burkina Faso and its ex-president Blaise Compaore of supporting Soro's rebellion, which grew out of a failed coup against Gbagbo in 2002.

The weapons purchases were arranged by Compaore's personal military chief of staff General Gilbert Diendere, the investigators wrote.

Compaore was forced to flee Burkina Faso amid violent unrest in 2014 and now lives in exile in Ivory Coast, which granted him citizenship. Diendere, who last year staged a failed coup against the transitional authorities that replaced Compaore, is in detention in Burkina Faso and was not immediately reachable.

Burkina Faso authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Soro earlier this year on charges related to his alleged support for the failed putsch in Burkina Faso.

TRTWorld, Reuters