June 8 (Bloomberg) -- The return of Liberian mercenaries from Ivory Coast may destabilize the nation before elections in October, the Economic Community of West African States, or Ecowas, said.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” Ecowas Commission President James Gbeho said in an interview in London yesterday. “A lot of young people went to fight in Cote d’Ivoire recently and not only have they gone back, they have gone back into Liberia with their weapons.”
The mercenaries entered Ivory Coast following the country’s disputed November vote, when incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to the internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara. At least 220 civilians were killed by the retreating fighters, Ivorian Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said on May 15.
They are returning to a country that is rebuilding its economy following civil wars between 1989 and 2003 in which an estimated 250,000 people died and most of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. Incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected in 2005 as Africa’s first female president when the West African nation held its postwar vote.
The United Nations is concerned that the movement of weapons and fighters around West Africa following the end of the crisis in Ivory Coast and conflict in Libya may cause instability before elections in Liberia, Guinea and Senegal, which are due over the next 12 months, Said Djinnit, the organization’s special envoy for the region, said May 26.
The 15-member Ecowas, founded in 1975, is looking to provide funding for Ivory Coast’s recovery, Gbeho said.
“In areas such as humanitarian assistance, particularly in tending to internally displaced persons and also those who have had to flee to neighboring countries like Liberia and Ghana, that’s the area that we’re going to take very seriously.”
--With reporting assistance from Drew Hinshaw in Senegal. Editors: Philip Sanders, Emily Bowers
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