BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 February 2005, 09:48 GMT
Ivory Coast's 'Wild West'
By James Copnall
BBC News, Ivory Coast

FLGO fighters
The FLGO are not keen to show their weapons
A pistol stuck into his combat trousers, in the middle of a muddle of 50 militiamen, the young man started to sing.

His deep, melodic voice found its answer in the ranks of his fellow combatants, who stamped their feet to provide the rhythm.

When an officer barked out the command "Left turn", half the soldiers jumped smartly to their left, and the others wheeled to their right.

The Front for the Liberation of the Great West, or FLGO, is not your average military unit - even in Ivory Coast.

It was founded more than two years ago by self-proclaimed General Denis Maho in the western, government-controlled town of Guiglo.

General Maho says his troops are not a militia, but an "army of resistance", created to fight off the rebels who swept down from the north of the country in autumn 2002.

Peace, not war

The general, who used to be an accountant, and is the traditional chief of chiefs of the We ethnic group, admits his organisation, and the two others he has created, are almost entirely composed of Wes.

General Maho
General Maho, a traditional chief, used to be an accountant
The We have fought against the related but rival Dan group for years, and many of the New Forces rebels in the west of Ivory Coast are Dan.

General Maho claims his forces had no guns, but stole them all off dead New Forces rebels.

When his soldiers finished singing, one of them asked him if it was time to display their weapons.

The question was shushed away, presumably as General Maho had previously maintained a deliberate vagueness about the provenance and abundance of his troops' weaponry.

There have been persistent reports that the FLGO are funded by people close to President Laurent Gbagbo, something General Maho denies vehemently.

But one of his military commanders, a former regular soldier, claimed to be in regular contact with President Gbagbo.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the FLGO certainly saw combat in the vicious battles to control the west of Ivory Coast in November 2002, fighting alongside regular units of the Ivorian army against the rebels.

"We want peace, not war," General Maho says. "But if they attack we are ready."

Land row

Just a few miles outside Guiglo, two camps of Burkinabe refugees sit side by side.

Man's waterfall
Before the war, the waterfall in Man was a tourist attraction
Many of the people here have lived in these camps since the beginning of the war two years ago.

Most say they were chased off their plantations by locals who feel they are not Ivorian.

From having a certain economic independence, coupled with the backbreaking daily work on the plantation, the refugees have moved into a life of forced indolence and limited living conditions.

Though everyone thanked humanitarian groups like the World Food Programme and the International Office of Migration for providing food, all said the one thing they wanted was to be able to go back to their fields and work.

The civil war has certainly enfeebled the rule of law in the west, making such evictions more than feasible.

Yet this is an age-old problem.

'No-confidence zone'

The right to own and work land by non-Ivorians - and what exactly constitutes an Ivorian - are both long-term concerns and the building blocks of Ivory Coast's civil war.

In the region of Guiglo there are also many Ivorians who have been displaced by the war.

Burkinabe refugees
The Burkinabe were kicked off the land
They told us the New Forces rebels had driven them from their homes and fields, killing and raping as they did so.

Anyone who believes the UN-patrolled confidence zone that splits the unruly rebels from the loyalists and their militias has frozen the problems need only make the most cursory incursion into the area to realize their error.

The "confidence zone" is a huge misnomer.

"Not a week goes by without us being told of people being killed or of other serious human rights violations," Boubacar Diallo of UN agency OCHA said.

The Bangladeshi troops posted there simply do not have the manpower to patrol what is a vast area.

Some people allege that they are, in addition, too poorly equipped and too static to do their job properly.


The west is covered in forest, and must be an extremely difficult area to police adequately.

Everywhere I went, I heard tales of combat between rival villages and rival ethnic groups, sometimes over land and resources, and sometimes over other grievances.

Yeo Cemetery
Yeo Cemetery denies making money from the war
The west's complex problems are increased by its proximity to both Guinea and Liberia, countries whose own problems have bled over into western Ivory Coast.

Liberian mercenaries, used by both rebels and loyalist forces, added to the violence unleashed on the population.

A cloud of instability has obscured the region's assets, like the tree-covered mountains and beautiful waterfalls that surround the city of Man.

Man is the main New Forces-controlled town in the West.

Rebel riches

Following the air attacks on their positions in November last year, the New Forces seem particularly nervous on the road into the city.

Even with a laissez-passer signed by a New Forces commander, it took some heated negotiations and the timely arrival of a friendly New Forces administrator to get into rebel territory.

The city itself is beautiful, wearing its crown of 18 mountains with style.

Many of the New Forces commanders who run it seem to be having the time of their lives too.

"They all have the latest cars, bodyguards, girls and lots of money," one Man native explained. "So why should they ever think about giving up their arms?"

The New Forces acting commander in the area, a former corporal who calls himself Yeo Cemetery, denied he had made any money from the war.

However other Man residents whispered of the chaos caused by drunk soldiers in bars, and humanitarian workers talk of the fear of increased rape and other crimes.

Whether in the government or rebel territory, Ivory Coast's western region certainly deserves its nickname: The Wild West.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific