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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 05:59 GMT
Ethnic split stirs Ivory coast crisis
By Lara Pawson
BBC, Ivory Coast

Hatred between ethnic groups in western Ivory Coast continues to have a devastating impact on the local economy, nearly a year and a half after a military rebellion threw the country into crisis.

Bill Dobiya
The ethnic divide has affected cocoa and coffee production

Bil Dobiya lives in Duekoue, a town 400km north-west of Abidjan. He is a cocoa and coffee farmer.

When his father died 20 years ago, he inherited the five-hectare plantation which lies just north of Duekoue.

Until two or three years ago, Mr Dobiya was doing well. These days, the good times are just a memory.

"I used to produce about three tonnes of coffee a year. Now, with the rebellion, we barely reach 500kg in a year. It gets lower all the time because the plants are rotting," he said.

Crops at the vast plantation are rotting because his employees have all run away.

"The peasants haven't come to work since the crisis began," he said.

"They said they were going to Burkina Faso or Mali to leave their children and elderly parents in safety. But none of them has come back."

All of his employees were people who originated from neighbouring Burkina Faso or Mali.

In Ivory Coast, this group of people are known as "etrangers" or foreigners.

Many of them were born here, some are even second generation - but they are still called foreigners or "les Burkinabes".

Militia groups

Take a half-hour drive west of Duekoue, to the smaller town of Guiglo, and you can find over 7,000 people of Burkinabe origin.

They have not left Ivory Coast, but are living within the relatively safe confines of a refugee camp, or what the Ivorians call somewhat ironically, a "welcome centre".

Hatred is a big problem - it still exists here definitely, there is so much hatred against the foreigners
Bil Dobiya, Cocoa farmer
Under a wooden shelter, close to the entrance of the camp, Idrissa Zungurane, a local Burkinabe elder, explains why he fled the plantations.

"The Guere people are jealous of us," he says, throwing his arms up above his head.

"They used militia groups to chase us, the Burkinabe, off our land. Now we've got nothing.

"We came to Ivory Coast because of the money and the cocoa. Now the Guere want to chase us back to Burkina Faso because they want the money we make from cocoa and coffee."


Mr Dobiya is neither Guere nor "etranger".

French soldier
French troops have been patrolling at Kahin

He is what is known in Ivory Coast, as an allogene - an Ivorian national who has moved from the area they were born to another area.

Mr Dobiya is from Tuba, a small town 120km north of Duekoue.

He agrees nevertheless, that the Guere are to blame for the violence and hence his depleted annual coffee produce.

"Many Burkinabe have been injured or killed by the Guere. I don't even have a number, it is so high," says Mr Dobiya.

"Hatred is a big problem. It still exists here definitely. There is so much hatred against the foreigners. If it continues for much longer, I will be finished," he said.

But people of Guere origin deny that they are responsible for the growing hatred.

Continuous attacks

Earlier this year, on 5 January, there was a massacre in a local village called Kahin.

Like Mr Dobiya's plantations, Kahin lies within Ivory Coast's so-called Zone of Confidence: a strip of land running across the country which is patrolled by French soldiers.

Despite the French patrols, over 36 people were killed in Kahin last month.

At least 30 were Guere, and about six were Burkinabe.

Tate du Gaston is Guere, he used to live in Kahin, but he fled to Guiglo late last year.

"The Burkinabe have begun and continue their attacks. They set fire to the entire village of Kahin," he said.

"They came and tied us up. They plan it all out and every day they come, all together, and slaughter us."

Insecure zone

Jacques Doue, deputy mayor of Guiglo, is a rotund and jovial figure of a man.

Mr Doue has lived in Guiglo most of his life and clearly loves and is proud of his town.

He has no doubts about where his ethnic loyalties lie.

"It's the foreigners who are attacking the Guere," he says from behind a huge desk.

Chief Idrissa Zungurane
The Burkinabes feel Guere are jealous of their achievements

"The people go quickly into the villages to massacre the local population. In Kahin, there were 30 Guere killed on 5 January compared to six foreigners.

"And right up until today, this zone is completely insecure. That's why the autochthonous population can't return to their homes. That's why they're all staying with us in Guiglo," said Mr Doue.

As the communities continue to disagree, planters like Mr Dobiya are struggling to make ends meet.

He says that even if his employees come back within the next month, his plantations will take at least a year to recover.

"If you leave coffee and cocoa untended for two years, it'll take at least a year to get it back to where it was.

"We live in hope that the crisis will come to an end - but there are many people who are still very, frightened."

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