Guest Blog by Ilmari Käihko
Following the attack from Liberian soil toIvory Coastthat resulted in the deaths of seven peacekeepers fromNigerworking under the United Nations flag as well as a number of Ivorian civilians and military an update is in order. While my previous post explained the general situation, the targeting of UN peacekeepers requires some further explanation.
I got the news about the attack immediately from my supervisor inSweden, who had learned about it from the Swedish television on the morning after it had been executed. During the day I must have asked around 50 people about their reactions and thoughts concerning the incident. Not one was aware that it had even taken place. Only on the second day had information begun to trickle down to Zwedru, mainly from theIvory Coast.
I cannot say that any of the reactions to the attacks were particularly strong. Most Liberians seemed to care little, while some even cynically claimed that the United Nations probably paid some Liberians to attack their own forces in order to further some business interests. Most were simply uninterested, possibly because of the multitude of unverified rumors that float around all the time. Others, of course, knew that there was something on the make, but probably had no exact specifics concerning this particular attack.
Reactions from some Ivorian refugees were different, however. At this point it can be in order to state my own position concerning an attack on UN peacekeepers. As a former peacekeeper I cannot justify an attack against the UN in any way. This said, apart from justifying the act I do believe that we must understand why it happened.
The first refugee I told about the attack answered with a single word: “bon” – “good”. Puzzled, I demanded an explanation to his positive reaction to events I consider to be bad. According to him the UN collaborated with the current President Outtara in removing President Gbagbo from power to the extent that “UN and Outtara are one”. Attack on the UN can therefore be seen as a way of opposing the government of Outtara, and from the perspective of a Gbagbo supporter therefore furthering their political goals.
It should also be noted that this refugee is not an inherently bad person even if he supports killers of UN forces. After sensing my bafflement he proceeded to explain that his whole family, including small children, was killed during the Ivorian crisis by forces loyal to Ouattara. After such an experience any chance to get payback is more than understandable. At the same time, it does lead into a vicious circle of violence that can be difficult to break out from. Already there are reports that the attack has driven thousands of people from their homes near the border. The refugee situation inLiberiamay very well be the first area to be affected.
Finally, it is difficult to predict what will happen in the future. There are no indications that these attacks are the last ones. Rather the opposite is true. As Gbagbo’s trial begins the number of attacks may even increase. In the case of a sentence the situation will likely seriously deteriorate. Gbagbo’s supporters hope for a quick trial and acquittal, and not the six-year wait that the followers of Charles Taylor had to bear from 2006 onwards until his recent conviction. The announcement of the Liberian government to deploy the Armed Forces of Liberia to the border is also worrying, considering that no-one seems to have much trust in the military.
Another aspect of the conflict that I did not discuss in the previous posting is an ethnic one. As with the Liberian civil crisis, even the conflict inIvory Coastis seen as an ethnic one by many in Grand Gedeh. In this case it extends to the Krahn and Gio on the Ivorian side of the border. The Krahn inLiberiaalso claim that they cannot freely enter the neighboring Nimba county in fear of harassment by the Gio, whereas there are many Gio living freely in Grand Gedeh. While there are no signs that this dimension of the conflict is spreading toLiberia, it can be good to keep in mind that even this dimension is real to the people here. In any case, something is definitely brewing in Eastern Liberia andWestern Ivory Coast.