Thursday, November 20, 2003

PAPUA: The Islamisation of Papua, the betrayal of a Christian people

 Date: Friday 21 November 2003
Subj: The Islamisation of Papua, the betrayal of a Christian people.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal



On 19 November 2003, The Jakarta Post reported, "The government plans to launch revisions of two conflicting laws on Papua -- Law

No.45/1999 and Law No.21/2001 -- and is preparing the draft of a government regulation on the establishment of the long-awaited Papuan People's Assembly (MRP). With the revision and amendment of the two conflicting laws, the government plans to legitimize the establishment of new provinces in Papua." (Link 1)

The Indonesian government granted Papua Special Autonomy in 2001, and was required to establish a Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) to handle Papua's issues. The Indonesian government has, however, reneged on all counts. They never established the MRP and are now re-writing the Special Autonomy Law so that autonomy will only be granted to each newly created province, removing the Papuan people's right to have a say on the issue of division.

Indigenous Papuans are predominantly Christian. Of the three provinces, two (the resource-rich West Irian Jaya province and the resource-rich Central Irian Jaya province) will be majority Muslim, Javanese transmigrants. While the primary aim of the government is undoubtedly to maintain total, unhindered control over Papua's resources, the side effects of the division will be the emasculation and marginalisation of the Christian indigenous Papuans, and the inevitable Islamisation and Javanisation (new word!) of Papua.

Sources in Papua report that the Indonesian Army is continuously attempting to provoke indigenous Papuans, looking for grounds to implement a Military Operation similar to what is taking place in Aceh. This will effectively close Papua to the rest of the world and provide a platform for the military to overwhelm the Papuan community, further marginalise this community, and then finally open Papua up "for business". Papua will then come to be totally controlled by interests coming out of the rest of Indonesia.

According to sources, these interests represent a strong Islamic dimension. It is not an exaggeration to say that the decimation of the Papuan people could be imminent.

This posting includes a comment from the Reverend John Barr (Sydney,

Australia) who has a long history of involvement in mission, ministry, human rights and justice in Papua.


In 1999, President B.J. Habibie enacted a law (Law No. 45/1999) to divide Papua into three provinces ostensibly to speed up development. However, in response to bitter opposition from the Papuan people, he eventually postponed its implementation indefinitely.

In 2001, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed a presidential decree (Law No. 21/2001) granting Papua Special Autonomy. This decree addressed the issue of Law No. 45/1999, saying, "Expansion of the Papua Province into provinces shall be carried out with the approval of the MRP [Papuan People's Assembly] and the DPRP [Papuan Legislative Council] giving close attention to the social cultural unity, readiness of the human resources and the economic ability and development in the future." (Law No. 21/2001 Article 76) (Link 2)

However, in early February 2003, President Sukarnoputri signed another presidential decree (Law No. 1/2003) calling for the implementation of the 1999 law to divide Papua into three provinces - West Irian Jaya, Central Irian Jaya and Papua.

Implementing Law No. 1/2003 and dividing Papua without the approval of the MRP (a body the central government was required to establish but never did) clearly violates the Special Autonomy Law No 21/2001.

(For a definition of what the MRP is supposed to look like, see Law No 21/2001 Article 1.g, article 5.2 & articles 19-25. Link 2. Also see link 3)

The Papuan people are strongly opposed to the division of Papua and had assumed that the 2001 Special Autonomy Law had rendered the 1999 law void.


On Thursday 13 November, the House of Representatives (DPR) endorsed the government's move to divide Papua into three provinces, thus giving more legitimacy to the government in moving ahead with the plan, despite strong opposition from Papuans and others such as Abdurrahman Wahid (Link 4).

On Friday 14 November, the Indonesian Minister of Home Affairs, Hari Sabarno, installed Brig. Gen. (ret) Abraham Octovianus Atururi as the governor of West Irian Jaya province, despite controversy over the status of the province.

According to the Jakarta Post (15 Nov), his inauguration marks the official split of West Irian Jaya from Papua. Atuturi's sudden inauguration prompted criticism from Papuan leaders and people, as well as protest that Atuturi's inauguration was legally flawed.

"I am afraid the inauguration will spark social conflict in Papua,"

said Frans Maniagasi, the Secretary of the Center of Information for Humanity, Justice and Truth in Papua (PIK-3-TanPa).


To fix the legal anomaly, the Indonesian government has decided it will amend the Special Autonomy Law (an act which is in itself a violation of that law - see link 2 article 77) and Law No.45/1999.

According to the Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno, the revised laws will say, "the establishment of new provinces must be with the approval of the MRP and DPRP, except for those established before the revisions." This will exempt Law No. 45/1999 from the protocols established in the 2001 Special Autonomy Law. Special Autonomy will now be granted to the individual provinces, not to Papua as a whole.


The Special Autonomy deal for Papua always rested on the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) and a commitment to enabling Papuans to have direct say in the future of their land.

I remember listening to a number of discussions in Papua when this move was announced by Jakarta. Many Papuans believed this was a step towards a better future. Others argued that Jakarta cannot be trusted. Unfortunately those arguing against Special Autonomy appear, at this stage, to be right.

Division of Papua into three separate provinces manipulates the changing demography of this region. With the continuing arrival of migrants from Islamic regions of Indonesia, some observers suggest the population ratio of Christian to Islam is already 50-50 (generally the figure is seen to be around 60-40 - however I am sure the ratio is much closer these days) and there is evidence indicating that the further west one goes, the more Islamic Papua becomes. Therefore the formation of three provinces creates a scenario where the most western province will have a definite Islamic majority while the central province will be very close to Islamic majority and the eastern province will remain with a Christian majority.

This means that up to two thirds of Papua will be ruled by Muslim dominated local administration. Natural resources are concentrated in the western and central regions (oil and gas reserves in the west together with copper and gold in the central province) while the eastern province is relatively poor. Jakarta argues that the division of Papua into three new provinces will aid administration in this remote region. It will certainly have the effect of further marginalising indigenous Papuans in their own land.

A war of attrition has been taking place in Papua for 40 years.

Papuans are already marginalised in terms of access to education, health care and a share in the wealth of their land. The revision and amendment of current laws accelerates the pace and one cannot help believing this is an attempt to overwhelm indigenous Papuans and their strong Christian heritage.

Papuans currently support the creation of a "zone of peace"

throughout Papua. I am deeply concerned the Minister for Home Affairs' announcement [to install Atururi as governor of West Irian Jaya province] will provoke a backlash and undermine the important peace that has been established. A tragedy of great proportions could take place. Such a tragedy will involve violence against the Papuan population through military action similar to what took place in East Timor and what is now taking place in Aceh.

It seems as though the Papuan people have nowhere to go. The present scenario indicates that most of the region will be predominantly Islamic in a matter of years.

Reverend John Barr

Executive Secretary for Unity and International Mission for the Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly.


- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Govt to revise conflicting laws on Papua; National News - 19 November 2003
by Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post.


3) Govt to emasculate Papua's special autonomy; National News - 2 September 2003
Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post

4) Following Clashes, Govt Told Not to Divide Papua, By Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur)
26 August 2003 Jakarta.

Extra background:

WEA RLC News & Analysis, "Papua: A conflict in waiting" 21 February 2003.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Turkmenistan: religious minorities effectively banned.

Date: Tuesday 18 November 2003
Subj: Turkmenistan: religious minorities effectively banned.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


It was back in 1999 that the Turkmenistan government declared its intention to "strangle" minority faiths. All foreign Christians were expelled and the persecution of national believers, especially ethnic Turkmen, intensified intolerably.

While unregistered minority religious groups were not illegal, members of unregistered groups were scorned, harassed and persecuted, particularly by the National Security Committee (security police - KNB, formerly KGB). Christians have been beaten, tortured, had their homes confiscated and been driven into exile. For all its boasting of freedom of belief, Turkmenistan severely abuses religious liberty.

Turkmenistan has now replaced its highly repressive 1991 religion law with an even more repressive version. The new religion law, signed by President Niyazov on 21 October, came into effect on 10 November 2003. Unregistered religious activity is now officially banned as illegal. Members of minority faiths (Baptists, Pentecostals, Jews, Adventists etc), who have long been subject to administrative punishments, are now vulnerable to criminal charges.


Article 8 of the new religion law states, as previously, that registration with the Justice Ministry requires 500 adult citizens living inside the country. This requirement is so restrictive that only the Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox will be able to achieve registration. Evangelicals that minister to ethnic Turkmen find it doubly difficult to find the 500 members necessary for registration. To protect ethnic Turkmen believers from persecution, and to protect congregations that minister to ethnic Turkmen from harassment, evangelical churches will often not list the names of ethnic Turkmen on their rolls.

Article 11 states, "The activity of unregistered religious organizations is banned. An individual carrying out activity in the name of an unregistered religious organization bears responsibility in accordance with the laws of Turkmenistan."

Article 14 gives the Justice Ministry the right to cancel a group's registration on a wide range of bases, from "interference in family relations leading to the breakdown of the family", to "violation of social security and social order".

Article 15 requires all registered religious organizations receiving money or other support from foreign donors to notify the Justice Ministry.

Article 20 requires all religious literature imported by registered religious organizations to be approved by the Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs.

Article 6 states, "The teaching of spiritual beliefs on a private basis is banned and bears responsibility in the manner established by the law of Turkmenistan."


The criminal code has been amended to provide punishments for those breaking the law by engaging in unregistered religious activity. According to Forum 18, "The new article 223 part 2 of the Criminal Code, also signed by President Niyazov on 21 October, punishes 'violation of the law on religious organisations'. Those breaking the law who have already been punished within the space of a year under the Code of Administrative Offences 'are to be punished by a fine of between ten and thirty average monthly wages, or corrective labour for a term of up to one year, or deprivation of freedom for a term of up to six months, with confiscation of illegally received means.' Such criminal punishments could be imposed on those who lead unregistered religious communities or those who teach religion in such communities." (Link 1)


It is important to note here that Turkmenistan's prisons are absolutely appalling. Turkmenistan is thought to have one of the highest per-capita prison population rates in the world. Most prisons are situated in the desert where the temperature can climb to 55 degrees Celsius, and they usually house up to ten times the number of inmates they were built to house. What's more, provisions are supplied for only the number of inmates the prison was built to hold.

Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, a former political prisoner (now living in Europe), reported to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last year (21 Nov 2002) that where he was imprisoned near Turkmenbashi City for three and a half years, there were 8,000 inmates but only one water faucet. "We had really no food to speak of in our prison. They gave us food but first you had to clean the cockroaches and worms out of it, then you could eat." Since Turkmenistan became independent in 1991 no monitoring group has been permitted to monitor prison conditions.

We must never underestimate what prison means for a Turkmenistan believer.


Forum 18 quotes Murad Karryev, deputy head of the Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs, as saying during a half-hour television programme on the new law on 7 November that there is "complete freedom of belief for all sects and confessions" as long as they are registered officially. "We do not intervene in the affairs of religious sects and confessions if they are legally registered at the Ministry of Justice."

While this statement is no doubt true, the repressive restrictions make a mockery of religious freedom.

Joseph K. Grieboski, the President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy condemned the new religion law saying, "The passage of this law uses quasi-democratic means to eliminate basic rights ideally guaranteed by the state. The Government of Turkmenistan has ignored its commitments to international agreements, flown in the face of international norms, and ignored the basic rights due the citizens of Turkmenistan." (Link 2)


Forum 18 reports, "Speaking on television on 22 October, Justice Minister Taganmyrat Gochyev said tighter control of religious groups and public organisations was needed to address security concerns."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty adds, "Erika Dailey, director of the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project based in Budapest, points out that 'the new religion law and criminal code amendment are consistent with a larger government effort to bring Turkmen society even further under its control.

"'It's worth noting,' Dailey told RFE/RL, 'that this new revised law on religion and religious organizations in Turkmenistan was signed into law at exactly the same time that a parallel law on NGOs, on nongovernmental organizations, was also signed into law. And the spirit of both new laws is very similar. It is to provide administrative oversight headed by the president himself of nongovernmental activities, whether they be religious or civic in nature.'

"Dailey adds that it is likely not a coincidence that the laws came into force in the days preceding the first anniversary of the 25 November alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov." (Link 3)

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) New religion law defies international human rights agreements
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service11 Nov 2003

2) Institute Condemns New Turkmenistan Religion Law
Washington, DC, November 11, 2003

3) Ashgabat Takes Further Steps To Suppress Religious Faiths
By Antoine Blua, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 14 Nov 2003

Friday, November 14, 2003

Egypt: Christians imprisoned - Islamists released.

Date: Friday 14 November 2003
Subj: Egypt: Christians imprisoned - Islamists released.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

The Egyptian government recently released around 1,000 members of the Islamist fundamentalist group Gammaa el-Islamiya, and then moved to detain and torture Christians (apostates; i.e. former Muslims) for changing their Muslim names to Christian names.

A 26 September 2003 Stratfor Global Intelligence Report entitled, "Egypt: Internal Focus and Political Stability", provides a basis for analysis. Stratfor says, "Egypt's ruling party is touting economic and political reform, signalling Cairo's renewed focus on domestic issues.

"Egypt plays a pivotal role in the region. The country has seen slow but steady economic growth in the past decade, with purchasing power parity rising steadily from 1992 to 2002. This has eased internal pressures on the government, despite widespread anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment and opposition to Cairo's relationship with Washington. Instability in Egypt would resonate throughout an already troubled region, encouraging instability in states such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. In a bid to prevent such instability, Cairo is focusing almost all of its attention inward."

According to this Stratfor report, the government's main problems at present are "anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment and opposition to Cairo's relationship with Washington". This might go some way to explaining the recent prisoner movements in Egypt.


On 20 October, Egyptian police commenced a crackdown on apostates. According to the U.S. Copts Association (26 Oct), "The assault started with the arrest of a husband and wife who secretly converted from Islam to Christianity. Yousef Samuel Makari Suliman, whose former Muslim name was Muhammad Ahmad Imam al-Kurdi and his wife Mariam Girgis Makar formerly Saher El-Sayid Abd al-Kani and their two daughters, Sarah and Marina (formerly Sarah and Shaymaa), had all secretly converted to Christianity and had been living as Christians in hiding."

Compass Direct reports that Yousef and Mariam told the prosecutor "that they did not know it was illegal for them to change their religious identity. Since it was commonly known that Christians in Egypt could convert to Islam and change their identity papers, they assumed that Muslims had the same rights." (Link 1 - has picture.)

The U.S. Copts report (26 Oct) continues, "Following the arrest of Yousef and Mariam, the police arrested individuals who helped them secure new ID cards with new Christian names. Under severe torture; the police were able to extract the names of some 100 other converts who secured new ID cards with Christian names. Immediately, thereafter, 20 more converts were arrested in Alexandria alone.

"Officially the 22 arrested converts are being charged 'with falsifying ID papers,' because they obtained new ID cards with their Christian names."

The most recent report from the Barnabas Fund (12 Nov) states that 17 of those arrested have been released on bail, whilst five (including Mariam) remain in prison. The Barnabas Fund report on the torture inflicted upon the prisoners is harrowing reading. Torture is said to have contributed to the death in custody of one of the Muslims arrested for allegedly 'falsifying' the Christian's ID cards. Mariam is reportedly being held in the same quarters as prostitutes and being told that while they will be released, she, as an apostate, will never be released. She is under great pressure to return to Islam (Link 2).

According to Barnabas Fund the detention of the five remaining in prison comes up for review on 20 November.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy has expressed outrage that the Egyptian government could abuse religious liberty after signing the "Declaration of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom" in Brussels in September. The Declaration has a very strong statement concerning religious freedom.

Only days later, representatives from Cairo participated in the Congress of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan and signed a concluding declaration which affirmed, among other things, "the right of each human person to freely be convinced, choose, express, and practice his/her religion."

Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski declared, "These actions of the Egyptian government have demonstrated that they have little interest in adhering to documents or principles to which they have signed, in essence making liars of their own people." (Link 3)


On 6 October 2003, Egyptian president Husni Mubarak released nearly 3,000 prisoners under an amnesty to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war with Israel.

About 1,000 of those set free were members of the Islamist fundamentalist group Gammaa el-Islamiya. Three of the group's leaders, Karam Zohdi, Fou'ad El-Dawalibi and Assem Abdel-Maged, convicted for their involvement in the 6 October 1981 assassination of former President Anwar Sadat, were among those released. Anwar Sadat was assassinated for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Thus the timing is very significant. These men were amnestied on the anniversary of the assassination for which they were imprisoned - an assassination committed in protest of a peace treaty with Israel.

Gammaa el-Islamiya is known for the terror campaign it has waged against the Egyptian government. Gammaa el-Islamiya's aim had been to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. They were infamous for killing of tourists (i.e. the Luxor massacre), but they also killed and terrorised Christians, whose very existence conflicted with their ideals of an Islamic state. The Gammaa el-Islamiya militants have allegedly been released because their leaders have declared that they have renounced violence.

However, as Michael Meunier, the Executive Director of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East in Washington, D.C., points out, the leaders of the Gammaa el-Islamiya may have issued statements of repentance, but they have not shown any remorse concerning the killings and terror inflicted upon Copts (Egypt's Christians), Jews, and Westerners during their campaign of violence.

Meunier says, "The discriminatory Islamist ideology that propelled the group's members to violence against the Copts appears to remain ingrained within its new, revised philosophy. We hear no remorse for the brutality demonstrated against the infidels (Christians and Jews) - they are once again sidelined as acceptable victims of violence." (Link 4)

An article in the Cairo weekly Al-Ahram reports that the Gammaa el-Islamiya leaders explain their change of heart as the result of "ijtihad", or independently reasoned interpretation of the Holy Qur'an and Sunna (teachings of Prophet Mohamed)". They are saying that interpretation must be "suited to exigencies, and changing realities".

Al-Ahram reports, "In their books Al-Gama'a's leaders stressed the inevitability of 'sincere Muslims', including Al-Gama'a, reviewing their stance on resistance due to the situation in Iraq, external pressures on Arab governments and the global order of power, all of which threaten 'national autonomy itself'."

Al-Ahram notes that some commentators have suggested that Gammaa el-Islamiya's call for an end to Islamist violence is purely tactical, and some expatriate Al-Gama'a members have suggested that the incarcerated leaders were enticed by a government offer for early release.

In response to such accusations Karam Zohdi says, "While an agreement with Jews can be temporary, until war against them is resumed, in a peace agreement between Muslims there can be no exit." (Link 5)

We can take this to mean that Gammaa el-Islamiya will honour its agreement with the Egyptian government, but an agreement regarding non-violence against Jews or Christians need not be honoured if war is declared against them.

That statement by Gammaa el-Islamiya puts weight behind this statement by Michael Meunier: "The release of more than 1,000 members of the Gamma el-Islamiya and al-Jihad organization, including several top leaders may very well serve the surge of international terrorism. In this context, therefore, it should serve as no surprise that Egypt has granted the Gamma el-Islamiya a new lifeline."

The security situation for Christians and Jews in (and possibly beyond) Egypt looks set to deteriorate.

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) EGYPT: Egypt cracks down against converts to Christianity.

2) Barnabas Fund NEWS

3) Institute Outraged by Egyptian Crackdown on Converts
Washington, DC, 30 October 2003

4) Egypt's Dangerous Game. By Michael Meunier, 11 November 2003

5) A New Page?
By Jailan Halawi, for Al-Ahram

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

India: Togadi says Christianity is a virus.

Date: Tuesday 11 November 2003
Subj: India: Togadi says Christianity is a virus.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

Australia's SBS channel recently ran a 'Dateline' program on the issues of conversions and anti-conversion laws in India. Dr. Previn Togadi, the head of the VHP and author of the new anti-conversion laws, was interviewed, and his comments reveal the true intention of the VHP. He describes Christian witness as "religious terrorism", Christianity as "a virus" and conversion as "cultural AIDS".

Here are a few excerpts. The reporter is Edwina Throsby reporting from Gujarat.

Throsby reports: "Gomet (a new Christian) is one of a growing number of Dalits who are choosing to abandon Hinduism, the religion of their ancestors, in favour of something new. By escaping Hinduism, converts hope to escape oppression. So many thousands of Dalits are changing their religion that it's being described as a 'conversion movement'.

"But in a country - and a global climate - where religion and politics are increasingly hard to separate, the act of conversion has become politically charged. The state of Gujarat is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, a fundamentalist Hindu party that is violently opposed to missionary activity. Dr Previn Togadia is the international general secretary of the BJP's culture arm, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP."

DR. PREVIN TOGADIA, HEAD OF VHP: "We are dead against conversion of any type. If I change my religion, that is a different thing. But if you target me, they (Christians) are targeting! They are harassing! They are planning and preparing! It is nothing but religious terrorism.

"They enhance monoculture by destroying our belief system. They did it in Europe, in the first millennium, second millennium they destroyed the belief system of Africa. Third millennium, the Pope himself came and declared that I will convert Asia and India. It means they want to destroy pluralistic belief system of India."

Throsby continues, "The VHP has devised the boldest strike so far in the battle for the souls of the Dalits. It's behind a bill that attempts to stamp out religious conversion. Passed in March this year, the paradoxically named Religious Freedom Act restricts the activities of missionaries and requires would-be converts to obtain permission from a magistrate.

"A challenge from a Christian group has delayed the bill's enactment, but it's expected to become law within months. Similar bills are in various stages of passage in four other states. The VHP claims the Act will protect the free will of the under-classes, arguing that their ignorance and poverty are exploited by missionaries. Dr Togadia is the principal author of the controversial act."

REPORTER: "Isn't the act of conversion an exercise of free will?"

DR. PREVIN TOGADI: "No, if you are targeting me, where is there free will? Why aren't they converting Dr Togadia, medical surgeon? Why are they converting poor, downtrodden, illiterate? The bill is targeted against individual organisations who want to convert by force, fraud, or allurement, who don't believe in the validity of all religion, who want to destroy pluralistic tradition, and want to impose monoculture with force, fraud and allurement."

When it is pointed out to Dr. Togadi that only 0.5% the population of Gujarat is Christians, hardly a political or social threat, Togadi responds:

DR. PREVIN TOGADI: "It's not a question of the number of Christians. It's the concept. It is not a number it is a virus. A single AIDS virus is sufficient to kill a human being. So conversion is cultural AIDS, which will destroy pluralism."

This language is the same as that of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who recently said, "Ideology for a state is what the immune system is for a living organism. If the immune system grows weaker, any infection, even the slightest one, turns deadly."

Once again, Christianity is being described with toxic and paranoid language as a deadly disease that must not be allowed to spread and sicken or destroy the nation. This interview reveals that the goal of the VHP is indeed to prevent every single conversion. This is a serious assault upon religious freedom. (Full transcript - Link 1)

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Gujarat - A Question of Faith
DATELINE SBS, 5 November 2003

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Cote d'Ivoire: facing the prospect of a whole new era.

Date: Wednesday 5 November 2003
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: facing the prospect of a whole new era.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

The situation in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) has taken a profound turn. In the face of rebel threats to return to war, the government of Cote d'Ivoire has acquiesced to rebel demands. While this means that "peace" reigns for now, it has serious implications for the future of Cote d'Ivoire and West Africa, particularly Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria - West African religious-fault line nations with similar demographics.


Cote d'Ivoire's problems stem from unmanaged immigration. While economic recession has led to tensions, the immigrants are not the cause of the present troubles. Neither is it the fact that the immigrants are predominantly Muslims. But for one political figure, status, ethnicity and religion could prove to be the answer to all his political problems.

This political figure, Dr. Alassane Ouattara, did not qualify to stand in presidential elections in 2000. This was not because he is Muslim - the Vice President is Muslim, the Prime minister is a northern Muslim, and there are many Muslim MPs. Dr. Ouattara's problems were related his nationality. Among the many issues was the fact that Dr. Ouattara's involvement in the International Monetary Fund and the Central Bank of West Africa were as a citizen of Burkina Faso - formerly Upper Volta. This did not rule him out of Cote d'Ivoire politics, but according to the Cote d'Ivoire constitution it disqualified him from the presidency.

Dr. Ouattara, however, knows how to play politics 21st Century style. An estimated 50% of the population of Cote d'Ivoire are immigrants from the neighbouring Islamic countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Niger and Mauritania. They share not only the same religion as the Muslims of Cote d'Ivoire, but also the same cultural and historical ties. By playing race and religion cards for personal political gain, Dr. Ouattara has managed to unite them behind him. Now all that is needed are the relevant constitutional and law changes that will enable Dr. Ouattara to stand as a presidential candidate, and allow the new citizens (nationalised immigrants) to vote him into power. These have been the demands of the rebels ever since their coup failed on 19 September 2002.


Foundations for peace were supposedly laid at the Marcoussis talks outside Paris in late January. However these foundations were faulty from the beginning. (See WEA RLC posting "Peace accord 'opens Pandora's box'".)


UN IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) reported on 23 September 2003, "The rebels, who are now officially known as 'The New Forces,' were due to have begun a process of demobilisation and disarmament on 1 August. This would have allowed the government to restore its administration to the entire country and reopen closed schools, hospitals and banks.

"However, the start of disarmament was held up pending the passage of an amnesty law and the appointment of ministers to the vacant portfolios of defence and internal security."

"And on 13 September [President] Gbagbo finally appointed Martin Bleou, a law professor and human rights activist, as minister of internal security, and Rene Amani, a former head of the government's cocoa board as defence minister. The president chose these two men from list of four candidates proposed by the prime minister.

"That should have cleared the way for disarmament to begin. However, the rebels objected loudly to what they called the 'arbitrary' way in which Gbagbo had imposed the new ministers without seeking a broad consensus." (Full IRIN report see link 2)


On Tuesday 23 September 2003, rebel leaders used their objections to President Gbagbo's appointments as their excuse to withdraw from the government of national unity, delay disarmament, and resume their threats of war. Some observers suggest that the rebels were looking for a way to avoid disarmament. As the UN IRIN report noted, the rebels have long been sharply divided over the issue.

However, not all the nine rebel representatives in the government agreed with the withdrawal. On Friday 26 September the rebels disowned one of their leaders, Roger Banchi, stripping him of his ministerial functions for defying the order to withdraw. He is the second rebel representative to defy the rebel leaders.

Banchi said he thought the rebels were "behaving like little children". He added, "Is it really worth spilling blood and igniting fires over issues such as the appointment of departmental directors and office coordinators? We [Banchi and another rebel representative, Gueu] stayed because we are serious. The politics of leaving an empty chair never pays."

UN IRIN quoted Banchi as saying, "I don't think my friends [rebel leaders] have taken the decision which the people were expecting of us. The cry of the people is so strong. Why doesn't Secretary General Guillaume Soro listen to them?" (Link 3)

This rebel action of withdrawing from the government and refusing to disarm, has put Cote d'Ivoire right back where it was - split along ethnic and religious lines, with a rebel force threatening war.


On Friday 31 October, Security Minister Martin Bleou announced that a plot had been uncovered that aimed to bring down the government by showing it as ineffectual and unable to provide security, even in the main city Abidjan. The plot involved the assassination of several significant religious and political figures. There have been no reports of arrests, and the government has appealed to the plotters to abandon the project.

One of those on the rebel hit-list was Cardinal Bernard Agre, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Ivory Coast. Armed police have now surrounded St. Paul's Cathedral in Abidjan, where Cardinal Agre lives and works. (Link 4)

According to the BBC report (1 Nov 2003), Cardinal Agre has held his post at St. Paul's Cathedral in Abidjan since February 2001, and has spoken out strongly against violence and ethnic and religious discord.

Reports of rebel threats to target Christian leaders have been circulating for some time. In February it was reported to the WEA RLC that the rebels were blaming their lack of military success (to capture all of Cote d'Ivoire) on the prayers of Christians and were therefore determined to target the church and eliminate Christian leaders.


To prevent war and bring the rebels back into the government of national unity, the government has acquiesced to rebel demands. The report from UN IRIN states:

"The government of Cote d'Ivoire has agreed to fast track the legislation of three key measures demanded by rebels occupying the north of the country as a conciliation for resuming their participation in the peace process."

According to UN IRIN (31 Oct), the three reforms are:

  • The amendment of a section of the constitution which bans citizens with a foreign parent or citizens who have spent long periods living abroad (even if they have benefited from a foreign citizenship) from becoming president.

  • A new nationality law to give full rights of citizenship to immigrants from other West African countries and their offspring, who account for 30 percent of Cote d'Ivoire's 16 million population. [The real figure is closer to 50% - EK]

  • A new property law to give full land ownership rights to immigrants who have occupied and cultivated land with the consent of local communities.
Drafts of three new laws will be discussed by parliament during the cabinet meeting in the second week of November. (Link 5)


Presently, Cote d'Ivoire is estimated to be 39% Muslim, 32% Christian (the number of evangelical believers doubled during the 1990s) and 29% traditional (Operation World 21st Century Edition). There is complete religious freedom. (Abidjan on the south coast, the commercial capital, is not only home to Cathedrals, but to the nation's largest mosques.)

If the new nationality law is passed, Cote d'Ivoire will become majority Muslim overnight, and the Church in Cote d'Ivoire will enter a whole new era.


The current BBC Country profile on Ivory Coast says that Laurent Gbagbo pronounced himself president in 2000. That is incorrect. However, the BBC Timeline for Ivory Coast is accurate and very good.


1) COTE D'IVOIRE: peace accord "opens Pandora's box".
WEA RLC Friday 31 January 2003

2) Rebel Ministers Withdraw From Government
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
NEWS 23 September 2003 Abidjan.

3) Second Rebel Minister May Break Ranks And Stay in Cabinet
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
NEWS 26 September 2003, Abidjan

4) Ivory Coast Uncovers Assassins' Plot
By Baudelaire Mieux,
31 October 2003, Associated Press,1280,-3333509,00.html

5) Government Fast Tracks New Laws Demanded By Rebels
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
NEWS 31 October 2003, Abidjan