A renegade warlord who began the battle to wrest Ivory Coast’s commercial capital from soldiers who fired rockets and mortars on a poor neighbourhood said Sunday that a lack of military co-ordination cost too many lives, infrastructure damage and unnecessary looting.
Ibrahim Coulibaly, a commander who began a battle two months ago to wrest the city of Abidjan from the grip of soldiers loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo, denied rumours his fighters might challenge the authority of the government installed at the cost of thousands of deaths and injuries.
“If we had united, we would have been able to avoid much bloodshed — there would have been fewer lives lost, less damages and looting,” Coulibaly said. “Now we have many elements who are out of control.”
In an exclusive interview Sunday with The Associated Press, he called himself a general and pledged his allegiance to democratically elected President Alassane Ouattara, whose fighters arrested Gbagbo on Monday. Coulibaly referred to himself by his nickname, IB.
“IB came to solve the problems, not create problems. IB is part of the solution,” he said, adopting the campaign slogan that calls Ouattara “The Solution.”
“IB wants this country to be unified,” he said. “It’s true there have been problems but I think the time has come to get together to rebuild this new army to allow President Ouattara to better govern the country.”
Coulibaly in the past led bloody battles in central Ivory Coast to challenge Prime Minister Guillaume Soro for leadership of the former rebels who brought Ouattara to power. Soro had served under Gbagbo but quit in protest after Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat at Nov. 28 elections. Ouattara then appointed him prime minister.
Coulibaly said he saw Ouattara as a father figure and denied any presidential aspirations of his own.
Coulibaly led Ouattara’s bodyguard corps when Ouattara was prime minister from 1990 to 1993.
Coulibaly, 47, is a former army sergeant who had been living in exile and in 2008 was convicted in his absence by a French court for recruiting mercenaries in France and plotting a 2003 coup to oust Gbagbo.
At the time, Coulibaly said the case was a plot to prevent him from running in presidential elections Gbagbo called for 2008, then delayed.
Both France and Ivory Coast have issued international arrest warrants against Coulibaly, who was one of the leaders of the December 1999 coup that brought Gen.
Robert Guei to power, and was also behind the rebellion launched in September 2002 against Gbagbo that divided the country between rebel-held north and government-run south.
Nov. 28 elections were supposed to reunite the country. Instead, Gbagbo stubbornly refused to accept his defeat at the ballot box and took a final stand in Abidjan.
Coulibaly said he intervened when Gbagbo’s soldiers started launching rockets and mortars into Abobo, the poor northern suburb that is filled with supporters of Ouattara and that saw some of the fiercest battles during the four-month standoff.
“I’m an Ivorian, I defend my country. If my people are attacked by a dictator, I will defend them,” he said, explaining his self-appointed mandate and the new title of general that he has given himself.
He did not hide his displeasure at being left out of the planning when his former comrades from the north and centre made their final descent on Abidjan, where Coulibaly’s “Invisible Commandos” had been fighting Gbagbo’s forces for two months.
“We were the forces on the ground that know the terrain, but they did not consult us,” Coulibaly said.
With Abobo secure, he said he had sent fighters Saturday to Yopougon, where militiamen and mercenaries who fought for Gbagbo have taken refuge and are terrorizing the population.
“We captured their armoury last night. Soon, we will subdue them,” he said of the last pockets of resistance in the city since Gbagbo was arrested Monday.
Coulibaly spoke in the courtyard of an Abobo home, apparently commandeered, after scores of local leaders came to welcome him and express gratitude for their liberation.
Thousands of people across the country have been killed and wounded in the political standoff, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has said it is conducting a preliminary examination into crimes perpetrated by all sides in the conflict.
Ouattara has said that he wants the former strongman tried by both national and international courts for his alleged crimes.
Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou said he was drawing up a list of ministers, generals and journalists to be charged with blood crimes, corruption and hate speech.
He said he also was investigating journalists who broadcast hate speech. Gbagbo had turned the state Radio Television Ivoirienne into a propaganda organ that broadcast statements inciting violence against tribes loyal to Ouattara.