Rival politicians in Ivory Coast have welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to extend its investigation into abuses back to 2002.

Former President Laurent Gbagbo is in The Hague awaiting trial on charges of crimes against humanity during the dispute after 2010 elections.

One of his allies called the ICC move “a step in the right direction”, as has the prime minister – a bitter rival.

But a BBC correspondent says it could cause considerable disruption.

The BBC’s John James says that in public, the Ivorian political class is trying to put a brave face on this but the newly extended ICC investigation is likely to dig up abuses by both sides, including the former rebels led by Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.

He became the political head of a group of former soldiers who mutinied in 2002, seizing control of the north and leading the country to be divided for nine years.

The much delayed 2010 election was supposed to finally reunify the country but instead led to a conflict in which some 3,000 people died after Mr Gbagbo refused to accept defeat.

With the help of UN and French forces, Alassane Ouattara, widely acknowledged as having won the election, was installed as president.

Like Mr Soro, he is from the largely Muslim north, where many people had complained of discrimination by the government in the mainly Christian south.

Mr Soro’s communications adviser, Toure Moussa, said: “The Ivorian government, notably its head, has always wanted light to be shed on all the allegations made… He puts a real importance on the need for an inquiry that’s truly credible and impartially considers the indicated period.”

Our correspondent says that lawyers working for Mr Gbagbo have always argued that focusing on the post-election period was a purely political move designed to put the blame on the former president.

A spokesman for Mr Gbagbo’s FPI party, Augustin Guehoun, says the rebels started the chain of events by taking up arms.

“The president was the rightful president when, on the night of 18-19 September 2002, his country, his army was attacked. He had the right to put his army into action – the army of the country that had been attacked. Those who attacked – did they have the right to an army? That’s the problem.”

Ouagadougou accord
A report by the ICC prosecutor, submitted in November, outlines a number of alleged crimes over the past decade that can now be investigated more fully.

These include the killing of 131 government gendarmes and their families in the former rebel headquarters of Bouake in early October 2002 by the rebels and the massacre of more than 50 northerners in the town of Daloa by government forces in mid-October 2002.

Other incidents include mass killings, attacks on unarmed protest marches and other abuses – often ethnically motivated – by government and rebel forces, militias and Liberian mercenaries.

Under the Ouagadougou peace accord signed in March 2007, the Ivorian politicians declared a general amnesty for all crimes committed since September 2000.

But the ICC doesn’t recognise such deals and says there can be no amnesty for the crimes they investigate – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Our correspondent says that victims will now have the chance to get at the truth of what happened, while some powerful people here who previously considered themselves untouchable, may soon be taking a flight to The Hague.


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