Updated at: 03/22/2013 7:09 AM
By ROBBIE COREY-BOULET
(AP) ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - The party of former President Laurent Gbagbo announced Thursday it won’t take part in local elections scheduled next month, a move that could further polarize Ivory Coast two years after a divisive presidential poll nearly dragged the country into civil war.
Richard Kodjo, the party’s acting secretary-general, said at a news conference that none of its members should participate, and that any who did would be disciplined.
Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office despite losing the November 2010 presidential runoff to current President Alassane Ouattara sparked five months of clashes, leaving at least 3,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. Gbagbo used the army, still under his control, to cling to power and was finally forced from office by U.N. airstrikes.
Gbagbo has since been transferred to the International Criminal Court where he is awaiting trial, while dozens of his supporters, including the former first lady and his Cabinet members, remain under house arrest.
Kodjo said there has been a lack of progress in fostering dialogue between Gbagbo’s Popular Ivorian Front party and Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans party. He said the fact that no Ouattara supporters have been charged for crimes committed during the post-election conflict was among the factors prompting his party to boycott the upcoming vote.
Human rights groups say both sides were implicated in grave abuses, including massacres, following the disputed vote. While many in Gbagbo’s inner circle were arrested alongside him in the commercial capital, in the bunker he had built for himself, militias that had carried out some of the worst crimes on his behalf fled via western Ivory Coast, crossing the river into neighboring Liberia.
There have been repeated attacks on villages on the Ivorian side of the river by suspected pro-Gbagbo militias, including one early Thursday.
Joseph Malanda, commander of the U.N. police force in the west of the country, said the attack occurred around 2 a.m. in the village of Toubly, which is located 15 kilometers (9 miles) southwest of Toulepleu, an important town along the Ivory Coast-Liberia border. He says there were no casualties, but three assailants were arrested and weapons including AK-47s were recovered.
No group claimed responsibility for the assault, but Karim Diarra, the prefect of Toulepleu, says the attackers were believed to have crossed the border from Liberia. A week earlier, assailants killed seven people, including two soldiers, in a similar pre-dawn raid that officials also said originated in Liberia.
Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, and in the 1970s and 1980s it was considered one of the most stable and most affluent countries in the region. The nation of 20 million, located on Africa’s western coast, began its downward slide following a 1999 coup and a strained 2000 election, which first brought Gbagbo to power.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)