By Ange Aboa
GUIGLO- Militia fighters queued up on Thursday for a long-delayed disarmament process, hoping to exchange their guns for a brighter future as farmers or seek their fortune in the economic capital Abidjan.
“As soon as I get my m
oney, I’m going to buy a cold beer and forget about all I’ve seen during the war, then look to invest,” said Seraphin Taye, 33, one of 2,000 members of militia in the west of the country giving up guns under a peace process.
Each will get around $1,000 for disarming — an amount many in the world’s top cocoa grower can only hope to earn in a year.
Militias fought alongside government troops in some of the fiercest combat of the West African state’s 2002-03 civil war. Rebels seized the north in a failed 2002 coup attempt, and still hold it as a slow peace stumbles on.
Arriving at a disarmament site in the town of Guiglo, some former fighters spoke of relief at leaving their paramilitary pasts behind and looked forward to new civilian lives here or hundreds of miles away among Abidjan’s concrete towers.
The first mass handover of weapons by any side to U.N. troops since the conflict began marks a rare advance in efforts to reunite the country which have been marred by near constant political disputes and sporadic violence.
It was all the more poignant taking place in Guiglo, where U.N. troops shot several people dead in January when civilian supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo including militia members attacked a base of the 7,000-strong peacekeeping force during widespread anti-U.N. rioting. France also has 4,000 troops in its former colony.
Elections scheduled for October under a U.N.-backed peace plan look certain to be postponed as preparations remain dogged by disputes and violence, most recently over a scheme to provide citizens with identity papers they will need to vote.
TIME FOR PEACE?
Militia members, whose leaders missed two disarmament deadlines last month over fears local civilians would be left vulnerable to attack, told Reuters their primary concern now was working out what they would do next.
“Before the war, I had a 10-hectare rubber plantation. Now I want to get back to the village to carry on with that,” said Taye, a father of two whose brother and comrade died in combat.
Roland Ba, head of APWE militia, said he planned to start a cashew nut plantation and to rear chickens.
“We have defended the country but now it’s time for peace and forgiveness. We’re tired of it and we call on the rebels to follow our example,” he said.
The programme aims to put 150 militiamen a day through disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration until Aug. 7.
The ex-combatants receive special ID cards and have their photograph and fingerprints taken. They then spend up to three days in large green tents at a demobilisation site receiving new clothes, medical checks and advice on their future plans.
Only after this do they start to receive cash known as the “safety net” which is paid in instalments over four months. — Reuter