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◌  A BBC interview with a Liberian “battle commander” in Côte d’Ivoire

10 March 2011

I’ve been advised not to write about the incipient civil war in Côte d’Ivoire (on account of it’s depressing and such) and I’m short on time, but here is a transcript of part of today (9 March)’s Africa Today podcast (2:11–5:35). You might want to follow along on Google Earth and Wikipedia.

(Proper names marked “[?]” are ones I could not verify quickly on the web and have left as best guesses. I would be grateful for corrections, especially of the name of the man interviewed here; I searched the web and Google Books for every spelling I could imagine and found nothing. Young is a reasonably popular first name; gbàgbé is a common Yoruba word for forget, but the news reader distinctly uses the L sound, so I’ve gone with Blagbe even though Google very much doubts it. In any case I assume from context that it’s a disposable nom du guerre.)

(If you work at a news organization and already have a transcript of something you broadcast in audio, for example because you needed to read over bad sound, please put it on your web site. Thank you.)

News reader: […] a former Liberian fighter and commander, Young Blagbe[?], phoned our Monrovia correspondent, Jonathan Pelele, to say he was actually commanding troops, including Liberians, to fight in support of Mr Ouattara. Jonathan put it to him that Alassane Ouattara may not be happy to see him fighting in Ivory Coast despite his claim to the presidency.

Blagbe (voiceovered; his audio in the background seems to be at least mostly English, but over a very noisy line): I don’t think he will not be happy, because he is the leader that won, and if someone wants to go against him directly, we should help put the situation under control.

Pelele: How many towns are your people occupying now?

Blagbe: The major towns in the highway we fought in heavily include Begwe[?], Tiaple[?], Zoguine [or possibly Zouan-Hounien, or Zagne], and from there we fought in Kouepleu[?] and then captured Toulépleu. Toulépleu is now under Ouattara’s men – men of the renowned government that is standing. Some of the people we defeated crossed into Liberia. I captured fifty heavy weapons and seventy-five light weapons, with one hundred and fifty boxes of AK-47 rounds from them.

Pelele: What do you intend to do with the ammunition that you captured?

Blagbe: I will report them to my commander. I even have two captured trucks with seven jeeps that I will turn over.

Pelele: You and the New Forces – rebels – are working together? Are you all working together?

Blagbe: Exactly. But I don’t call ourselves rebels, because Ouattara we’re fighting for is the president of this state, Ivory Coast, for now.

Pelele: Right … but do you people hear from Mr Ouattara himself?

Blagbe: I am taking direct orders from my commander, a captain.

Pelele: How many Liberian fighters can you account for on your side?

Blagbe: Roughly – I can’t tell, because I am the field commander here. I am controlling too [sounds more like so in the original] many people. But I have some people from there who volunteer to come here to fight. My bodyguards alone are seventy-five. I’m not talking about the fighters.

Pelele: Do your people know the terrain, really, the terrain in which you are fighting – do you know the area?

Blagbe: Sometimes the Ivoirians lead us into other places that we don’t know.

Pelele: Have you lost any of your troops in combat?

Blagbe: Since I started fighting I have lost only one man in a fight, from Tiaple to Toulépleu. [Zoguine audible in original, probably not in place of Toulépleu.]

Pelele: What is happening to civilians in the area where you are fighting?

Blagbe: Some fled, and as we get them we bring them back home. The only place they are waiting to be captured for them to return to is Toulépleu, and the town has been captured. And I give you two days from now I will be in Goleken[?]. From there I will be heading for Abidjan. I want to see the living body of Gbagbo.

Pelele: The concern that people have back home in Liberia is that the war in Ivory Coast should be left to Ivoirians to fight. Why are you people there?

Blagbe: Myself, I have a background in Ivory Coast, from a town called Bampleu on the border. And during Charles Taylor’s days, we were paid to join Charles Taylor and go and fight in Liberia. I was a chief of staff and a lieutenant colonel during the regieme of Charles Taylor. But later I was downsized – belittled – and I had no job. So with this thing happening here, I have to fight for my country, just the same way I fought for Liberia.

This worries me ten to twenty times more than Libya does.

Update on 30 May: I’m tremendously relieved that this didn’t turn into a full civil war. However, as an example of what was happening, here’s a Human Rights Watch report dated the same day as this interview called Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara Forces Kill, Rape Civilians During Offensive. To my embarrassment, I haven’t got much further on the proper names.