ABIDJAN: Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara moved to bolster his authority in the deeply divided country on Monday with a probe into members of his ousted rival’s regime for “blood crimes”.
The former IMF official and long-time opposition figure took charge on April 11 of the world’s top cocoa grower when his forces stormed the presidential palace in Abidjan and seized defiant strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
Ouattara’s government ordered civil servants to resume work from Monday — exactly a week after Gbagbo’s dramatic arrest.
And Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou told AFP he would ask prosecutors to investigate members of Gbagbo’s regime suspected of various crimes, adding the focus would be on “blood crimes”, weapons purchases or embezzlement.
Targets could be members of the previous government but also journalists of state radio RTI, which was viewed as a powerful propaganda mouthpiece for the regime.
“These investigations will target all Ivorian nationals who breached the law,” Ahoussou said, noting that it would be up to judges “to determine the offences”.
Abidjan, the West African country’s main city, meanwhile slowly returned to normal after 10 days of fighting that finally led to Gbagbo’s ouster.
“There are more people in the streets and in the churches, especially children,” said a resident in the city’s southern and densely populated Koumassi suburb.
“There is more traffic and more small shops are open. The situation is increasingly returning to normal but not wholly normal as yet,” he said.
Gbagbo — who spent a decade in power — had refused to accept defeat in November’s presidential vote, provoking a violent stand-off even though UN observers and the bulk of the international community had recognised Ouattara’s victory.
The ex-president is under house arrest in the north of the country while former rebel fighters loyal to Ouattara patrol Abidjan along with UN peacekeepers and a force from former colonial master France.
Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front party on Saturday said it had noted the order for the state machinery to start functioning again, and urged an “end to the war” and the “increase in violence”.
The country’s largest student union also called on its members to disarm and heed Ouattara’s reconciliation call.
Ouattara is “truly in control of the country”, and “has insisted on the reconciliation and reconstruction of the country”, the union’s secretary general Augustin Mian told the pro-Ouattara TCI television.
“We also want to be fully involved in the true and final reconciliation process,” Mian added, calling on members who are still armed to render their weapons and enable the return of peace and security.
“The students and pupils resolutely commit to joining the president of the republic in his effort to finally put an end to the crisis which has festered for far too long,” Mian said.
The union’s backing boosts Ouattara’s administration’s drive to stamp authority after his forces, backed by French and United Nations troops, captured Gbagbo.
Despite the peace calls, scenes of retribution were abundant in Abidjan, a seaside port city known as the pearl of west Africa in its heyday.
Four youths were paraded in its teeming Yopougon quarter, a Gbagbo bastion, and accused of burning people alive. They were to be handed over to police.
“Our task is to go on the ground and arrest the bad elements. The rest is not our work,” said a former air force officer who has been part pro-Ouattara rebel forces since 2002, when they staged a failed uprising against Gbagbo.
Gbagbo’s former foreign minister Alcide Djedje said he was being held in the town of Korhogo, in northern Ivory Coast which is seen as an Ouattara stronghold.
The disgraced leader’s wife Simone, a firebrand politician, was meanwhile in detention in Abidjan’s luxury Golf Hotel which had served as a base for Ouattara during the long standoff, Djedje said.
Ouattara’s government said about 70 people arrested with Gbagbo, including family members and house staff, were freed on Saturday.
Of the 120-some people detained with him, 30 members of his family, including his grandchildren, were released and taken to “a destination we are keeping confidential”, Ouattara’s justice minister said.
Another 38 people, mainly house staff including cooks and gardeners, were also released and “each has gone home”, he said.