EXCLUSIVE: Ivorian president vows reconciliation
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouatarra insisted there will be no "impunity" as he vows to bring to justice those who committed crimes in the violence which followed last year's disputed elections.
On his first state visit to France since being inaugurated as president of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara told FRANCE 24 on Friday that his country, which was torn apart by war less than a year ago, is finally on the road towards peace and reconciliation.
Around 3,000 people died in the violence that followed the country's disputed presidential elections in November 2010.
Former leader Laurent Gbagbo refused to stand down, despite losing the vote.
French and United Nations forces eventually helped those loyal to Ouattara to topple Gbagbo, who was taken prisoner and now faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
'Impunity is over'
Now leading efforts to heal the deep rifts in the country, Ouattara said anyone who committed crimes on either side during the conflict will face justice.
"Impunity is over in Ivory Coast," he said. "Anyone who has committed a crime will be judged. The process will be fair, and we will not try to protect anyone. People should recognise the fact that everything I said I would do, I have done."
It will be decided at a later date whether anyone charged with war crimes will be tried in the Ivory Coast or at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
During a meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris this week, Ouattara thanked his French counterpart for showing courage to intervene to the benefit of the "majority of Ivorians".
According to the latest United Nations figures, there are still 160,000 Ivorians living as refugees outside the country’s borders. More than 100,000 are also internally displaced.
Tensions in the country linger. At least one person died in Abidjan last weekend when a meeting of Gbagbo supporters was broken up by alleged supporters of Ouattara.
France's Licorne (Unicorn) peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast has been reduced to 450 troops from 1,600 at the height of the crisis. It will soon be only 300-strong.
Reconciliation between rival sides remains a major obstacle to lasting peace in Ivory Coast, but Ouattara insists his country will achieve that goal.
"I am continuing to work with the Truth, Reconciliation, and Dialogue Commission," Ouattara told FRANCE 24. "I believe in reconciliation. I think it's important. I believe in protecting minorities. I think democracy cannot go without the protection of minorities.
"Our project is to make sure we get all the people illegally holding guns that should be in the barracks. This process is working well. We will be implementing reform of the security sector with the help of the United Nations and friendly countries."
France's military involvement in Gbagbo's arrest was justified as promoting democratic values in Africa, but resulted in accusations that France was still acting like a colonial power.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the only Western head of state to have attended the inauguration of Ouattara in May 2011, has reiterated France's support for reconstruction and reconciliation this week.
On Thursday, Sarkozy signed a security deal with Ouattara to ensure French forces offer training and equipment to the former colony without interfering in its internal affairs.
Outside the oil sector, France is Ivory Coast's largest trading partner. The former colony is the biggest economy in French-speaking West Africa.