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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Burkinabes in Ivory Coast firing line
Homeless immigrant
Immigrant areas of Abidjan have been attacked

Ivorian state television has said the key to victory over the rebels is to expel all Burkinabe immigrants from Ivory Coast.

There are more than two million Burkinabes in Ivory Coast and since the military uprising on 19 September many have been physically attacked and the government has accused them and their home country of supporting the rebels.

The Ivorian communications minister and then the president tried to deflect the impression of a campaign against foreigners, despite government comments at the beginning of the war blaming the uprising on foreigners and foreign states.

In a televised address on 8 October, President Gbagbo appealed to his countrymen not to attack foreigners.

Why can't we, in times of war, throw out those who are responsible for our troubles?

Ivorian state television
Ivory Coast has a 580 mile border with Burkina Faso and in recent years their relations could hardly be described as neighbourly.

In the wake of the military uprising, the government of Laurent Gbagbo accused foreign countries of being behind the rebellion and of there being a "rogue state" responsible for supporting the rebels. And although he has urged Ivorians not to attack them, he has not absolved them of blame as far as the uprising is concerned.

That the rebels have been successful in holding the north and centre of the country and appear to have support from many of Ivory Coast's Muslims has increased the suspicion on the part of the government and many Ivorians that their northern mainly-Muslim neighbour is to blame

Burkina Faso has denied any role and a spokesman for the rebel soldiers told the BBC's Network Africa that they did not have outside support.


Soon after news of the uprising spread and government forces began to regain control of the commercial capital, Abidjan, security forces and supporters of Laurent Gbagbo attacked shantytowns in the city which house West African immigrants.

Some were killed and many made homeless when homes were burnt down.

The Governor of Abidjan has talked of destroying all the shantytowns around the city, while President Gbagbo has fallen short of that but said that those near military installations would be demolished.

Results of an attack by Ivorians
Ivorians attacked areas housing immigrants

There are about five million West African immigrants living in Ivory Coast - with half of them Burkinabes.

Poor West Africans have flocked to Ivory Coast in recent decades to work on cocoa and fruit plantations or have sought their fortune in cities like Abidjan.

They are a source of cheap labour for the Ivorian economy but also easy targets for frustration at times of political tension.

Ivorian television has said that the key to beating the rebel soldiers was to expel the Burkinabes from the country so that " their head of state (Blaise Compaore), the mastermind of the war against Ivory Coast...realises the importance of Ivory Coast in West Africa".

The station said: "If a country like Gabon can expel several thousand Africans in times of peace...why can't we in times of war throw out those who are responsible for our troubles?"

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Abidjan says that after the broadcast, the Ivorian Communications Minister Seri Bailly distanced himself from the television station's remarks and the threat to the immigrant workers in Ivory Coast.

"There is no hostility, there is no war or violence between the government and that foreign community," Mr Bailly said.

"I think it should be promptly corrected. There is no policy hostile to foreigners in this country".

Tensions have been increasing between Ivorians and Burkinabes in recent years because of a growing political split between the mainly-Christian south of the country and the north, with its higher Muslim population.

Communal violence

The main northern political leader, Alassane Ouattara, was banned from taking part in elections for several years when the government said that he was of Burkinabe origin and so not an Ivorian citizen.

His citizenship was only restored in June this year.

But the action against him angered Muslim Ivorians and there was considerable sympathy for them in Burkina Faso.

When the uprising started, Mr Ouattara took refuge in the French embassy in Abidjan, fearing for his safety.

In July 2002, Burkinabes living in the central town of Daloa were caught up in violence between southerners and northerners in the town of Daloa.

This increased the feeling among President Gbagbo's supporters that Burkina Faso backed the political ambitions of their opponents in the north.

The success of the rebels in holding the north has only intensified this perception. Recent years have seen growing connections between the political and military problems of neighbouring states in West Africa - notably in the wake of the Liberian war that overthrew Samuel Doe and eventually brought Charles Taylor to power.

Ivorian army soldiers on the way to the front
Government troops are travelling north

Burkina Faso was accused of arming factions in both Liberia and Sierra Leone during their civil wars. Burkina Faso denied the accusations but it was investigated by the UN team looking into the trade in illegal diamonds that financed military factions in both countries.

The attacks on immigrants in the immediate aftermath of the uprising and the increasingly strident attacks by the government and the state media on Burkina Faso and Burkinabes in Ivory Coast are creating an unstable situation that threatens wider communal violence and the possibility of inter-state conflict.

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07 Oct 02 | Africa
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