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Ivory Coast: Another Attack Against Civilians in the 'Zone of Confidence'
July 5, 2006
The 'zone of confidence' (zone de confiance) in Ivory Coast does not live up to its name. Created as a buffer between warring parties, it has turned into one of the most unsafe parts of the country. On June 28, the team working for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the zone saw this illustrated once again, when they received 12 wounded people in Bangolo Hospital. Eleven of these patients sustained serious injuries requiring referral to the MSF-supported hospital in Man, outside the contested area. Only two months before, five people had been killed and ten injured in a similar bout of fighting.
A young woman described what happened this time: "My family was inside the house. It was 4:00 am when we heard shooting. Armed men broke open our door. We all escaped through the window and tried to hide in the forest. Then my baby started to cry and the armed men began shooting in our direction. My baby was hit by a bullet and killed. I was wounded in my face and chest. We stayed in the bushes until the armed men had fled."
The zone of confidence is a strip of land 750 miles long and 9 miles wide, a buffer zone established by the United Nations to prevent fighting between rebel groups to the north and pro-governmental military to the south. The area effectively divides the country in two. The zone is patrolled by a peacekeeping force of around 7,000 UN soldiers who work alongside 4,000 French military personnel.
But together with the larger conflict, ethnic issues, and land disputes continue to create an atmosphere of constant tension and unpredictable violence. The area is a key region for the growth of cocoa. Many farm workers have come from other parts of Ivory Coast or from abroad.
Nobody is spared the effects of the violence. An elderly woman recalls what she lived through on Wednesday, June 28: "I was at home. It was dark, it must have been around 4:00 pm. I heard gunshots and decided to hide under the bed. The door was forced open and thirteen armed men burst into the house. They found me hiding under the bed and started shooting. I was injured. After the men left and the shooting had stopped, I decided to come out from under the bed. When I walked out of the house, I saw three dead people and many injured."
MSF started working at Bangolo in the zone of confidence in January 2004 because the people living in this no-man's land had no access to health facilities and medical care. Already in the first three months of 2006, MSF treated more than 310 patients for violent trauma; of these, 14 were children under 5 years of age. Since the war in Ivory Coast ended in 2003, hospitals had been abandoned by their staff and looted by armed groups.
"Cynically, the zone of confidence is the part of Ivory Coast where we see the highest level of insecurity for the population," says Stephan Goetghebuer, MSF Operational Coordinator for West Africa, based in Brussels. "Since the war ended, there have been virtually no civilian authorities in this area. In this vacuum, violence may not be huge on a daily basis, but the villages are not secure and the numerous attacks go without response."
In addition to running the hospital in Bangolo, which sees 400 consultations daily, MSF provides health services to outlying villages in the zone of confidence with mobile medical teams. Besides working in the zone of confidence, MSF runs hospitals in Bouaké, Man, and Danané, and health centers and mobile clinics in Kouibly, Guiglo, and Bin Houin. MSF treated more than 70,000 cases of malaria in 2005.
Tags: Ivory Coast