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Ivory Coast churches prepare to help victims of turmoil

April 21, 2011

NAIROBI, Kenya

Church leaders in Ivory Coast said they are preparing to respond to urgent humanitarian needs as the country adjusts to the deposition of former dictator Laurent Gbagbo on April 11 and the accession of democratically-elected president Alassane Ouattara.

“We are watching the situation ... We fear there may be mass movement of people into the neighboring countries,” the Rev. Blaise Amia N’Guessan, general secretary of the Conference Episcopale Nationale de la Cote d’Ivoire (Episcopal Conference of Ivory Coast) told ENInews in a telephone interview from Abidjan, the capital.

He spoke after French troops helped soldiers loyal to Ouattara arrest Gbagbo, who refused to step down after a November election. U.N. peacekeeping troops monitored the poll and Outtara had been recognized as the winner. In the ensuing fighting between Outattara and Gbagbo supporters, about 1,500 people were reported killed.

“There has been an uneasy calm here. People are able to move about, but there is still much fear,” said Amia N’Guessan.

On April 13, the U.N.’s humanitarian relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, told the Security Council that there are about 800,000 internally displaced people in Ivory Coast and that $300 million is needed for urgent humanitarian needs such as food and water supplies and disease prevention.

Amnesty International, the U.K.-based human rights group on April 13 urged Ouattara to end reprisal attacks against Gbagbo’s followers. Amnesty said armed men in uniforms were conducting house-to-house searches in Abidjan and that many people in the west of the country had fled to hide in the bush after villages had been burned.

“There have been reprisal ethnic killings,” Bishop Sumoward Harris of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, which borders Ivory Coast, told ENInews in an e-mail message. “The French and U.N. troops in Abidjan are patrolling the streets to protect civilians and properties,” he wrote.

Liberia has been receiving refugees from Ivory Coast and Harris said the Fellowship of Churches and Christian Council in West Africa might be in a position to help. “With our own experience ... in trauma healing, reconciliation and peace building, we have done an assessment and we are planning ... to go to Ivory Coast when conditions are ripe to do so.” 

He added that it was a positive development that Ouattara had urged people to stop fighting. “We hope the fighting will not linger for long,” he said. Harris said the refugees would be ready to return home if they were assured of their security.

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