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Last Updated: Monday, 24 February 2003, 11:20 GMT
Profile: Ivory Coast's charming rebel
By Joan Baxter
BBC, Bouake, rebel-held Ivory Coast

Guillaume Soro, leader of the MPCI rebels
Soro has gained respect among West African leaders
His full name is Guillaume Kigbafori Soro, and when asked what the Kigbafori means, he produces a mischievous smile, and says it means invincible in his native language, Senoufou.

Then he laughs.

For a man with the power to plunge Ivory Coast into full-fledged civil war tomorrow, he seems disturbingly jovial and relaxed.

He has gone from relative obscurity to international renown, leading the New Forces rebels throughout numerous peace talks in Togo, Paris and Ghana.

He has shown himself to be both a smooth diplomat and a tough bargainer.

Stocky, although he worries aloud that he is fat, Mr Soro exudes charm, and appears, so far, not to have let his new-found fame go to his head.

This is despite the fact that he now moves through the rebel stronghold of Bouake much like a president, in a speeding blue Mercedes and in a convoy of armed vehicles that only the foolhardy would dream of tackling.


But it is his polished political skills that must have impressed the rebels when they chose Mr Soro as their political front-man.

Under Mr Soro's deft leadership, the New Forces have managed to earn a good deal of respect among many heads of state in West Africa, and as far away as Paris.

Once called terrorists, today Mr Soro has managed to sell to the world the euphemistic term - New Forces - to describe three heavily armed rebel movements in Ivory Coast.

Not bad for a former student leader who was born just 36 years ago.

So where did this skilled orator and salesman come from?


Guillaume Soro was the eldest child, born to parents of modest means in the village of Diawala, in the far north of Ivory Coast, just a few kilometres from the Malian border.

Both his parents are now dead, and friends say this has marked Mr Soro, made him hard to get close to, despite his facade of congeniality.

He attended Catholic schools - and indeed today is still a practising Catholic.

It was in Abidjan, as head of the Ivorian students' federation, that he developed his reputation as a natural leader.

After a short period in prison in 1997 under then-President Henri Konan-Bedie, Mr Soro went to France to study law.

The colonel

In 2000 he returned to the Ivory Coast, and was asked to head the youth wing of the political party of the man who is today his arch enemy, Laurent Gbagbo.

But Mr Soro linked up with the military leaders who wanted to get rid of President Gbagbo, and that was that.

Today, those same rebel leaders call him, affectionately, Colonel Soro and for the time being, seem happy to let him continue to cajole and charm the international community at endless negotiations.

As for his personal life, Mr Soro says he does not have one these days.

He has fathered two children, both hidden away for security reasons, but he remains a bachelor, saying he has no time to find a wife.

Ivorian rebels threaten new war
23 Feb 03 |  Africa


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