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New Ivory Coast president committed to 'national reconciliation'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Ouattara: 'I am pres. of all Ivorians'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ouattara says the ethnic and civil hostilities will take time to resolve
  • Amnesty International says post-election violence is preventing the return of displaced people
  • The former president is under house arrest, Ouattara says
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Washington (CNN) -- Ivory Coast's new president plans to make national harmony his top priority as he tries to pull his crisis-ridden country together after many months of political turbulence and what one just-released report calls a now-prevailing "climate of fear."

"I am the president of all Ivorians, without distinction of race, religion or region," said Alassane Ouattara, speaking in an interview with CNN amid criticism that his supporters are targeting the backers of his former rival, former President Laurent Gbagbo.

In the United States to meet with officials, including United Nations leaders and President Barack Obama, Ouattara will make a "commitment," he said, that his term "will be devoted to reconciliation."

The Western African nation had been engulfed in violence since November, when then-president Gbagbo refused to step down after he lost the presidential election to Ouattara.

Many months of fighting and widespread displacement ensued, until Gbagbo finally surrendered in April and Ouattara was sworn in as president in May of a country wracked by conflict.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- who met with Ouattara Wednesday in New York -- said "the crisis has taken a massive toll" and that the international community needs to help the country "get back on its feet." Ouattara is expected to meet with Obama Friday.

Despite the end of the political crisis, the restoration of law and order in what is an "extremely precarious environment" is a" precondition" for helping the country rebuild, Y.J. Choi, Ban's special representative in the Ivory Coast, said earlier this month.

Ban issued a report on the U.N. Operation in Cote d'Ivoire, the French name for the country, that says there's a "high risk" of a return to armed conflict. He said the government must confront the issues that could spur conflict -- civilian areas "awash with weapons," ethnic conflict, and land ownership issues.

On Thursday, Amnesty International issued a report saying Ivory Coast security forces and a state-backed militia "are creating a climate of fear that is preventing hundreds of thousands of people displaced by post-election violence from returning to their homes."

The report cites "ethnically targeted killings and attacks" by security forces and a militia made up of Dozos, who are traditional hunters.

"The Dozo appear to target the Guere ethnic group, who are perceived to be supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo."

Ouattara said ethnic divisions were already exacerbated before he arrived in office and argues that there's been a "tendency for revenge" that he's trying to contain.

"It will take time to cure," he said, adding that he's working hard on that and that the composition of his government shows he wants diversity.

Asked who is giving orders to the militia, Ouattara said no one is, and that the tensions are rooted in economics and land. What is unfolding now, he said, is people taking back land that had been seized from them.

Another rights group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Ouattara's government must end persecution of journalists.

"We call on you to urge Ouattara to reinforce the rule of law, the impartiality of justice, and the promotion of national reconciliation by ending the persecution of journalists and media outlets that were favorable to former leader Laurent Gbagbo.

"Since July 21, Ouattara's authorities have been holding Hermann Aboa, a television journalist with national public broadcaster RTI, on a slew of anti-state charges -- including incitement to hatred and endangering state security -- over his role as one of four moderators of a Gbagbo-leaning political talk show entitled Raison d'Etat (National Interest) during the five-month political crisis."

Ouattara said he supported freedom of the press but argued that Aboa was a proactive Gbagbo figure.

"He was one of the people of Gbagbo, daily on television trying to call people to kill others, northerners and people from the center. He is being interrogated. He is not in prison. I think they discovered he had arms, that he had militia, that he paid them through money given to him by Gbagbo," Ouattara said.

Asked about Gbagbo's status, Ouattara said the former president is under house arrest in the northern part of country and that his wife is also getting similar accommodations.

He stressed that he wants the couple to be treated with dignity because Gbagbo once represented the nation and that the former president should remain under house arrest even if he's found guilty of some crimes, like those involving corruption. It's important, he says, "to honor the functions of the presidency."

However, Ouattara said, he will cooperate the International Criminal Court if Gbagbo faces more serious accusations, such as war crimes or crimes against humanity.

 
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