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Cote d'Ivoire Methodists seek end to war

2/27/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NEW YORK (UMNS) - Methodist leaders from the Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) are blaming France for contributing to the current unrest in the West African country.

During a Feb. 26 briefing with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the church leaders outlined their viewpoints on the crisis and the need for U.S. involvement. The Protestant Methodist Church of Cote d'Ivoire recently was given "mission church" status with the Board of Global Ministries.

The Rev. Benjamin Boni, president of the Protestant Methodist Church, explained that although the Sept. 18-19 uprising in Abidjan was first called an uprising of military members seeking a better life, it later became clear that the rebels had outside backing.

"This is clearly not a mutiny," Boni declared through a translator. "It's a plot of the neighboring countries with France."

The Cote d'Ivoire gained its independence from France in 1960.

He believes that France would like to see the Cote d'Ivoire divided into two parts - an eastern part, allowing the countries of Burkina Faso and Niger to use Abidjan as a port, and a western part, allowing Guinea and Mali to use San Pedro as a port. Some of the motivation, Boni claimed, is to improve conditions in Africa so that citizens of those countries will be less inclined to immigrate to France.

The Methodist delegation said it is not happy with the recent peace accord brokered by France, which also has imposed a new prime minister on the Cote d'Ivoire, ousting the Methodist who was serving in that position.

The church's most immediate concern is the violence that has erupted from the conflict, along with what Boni described as the rebels' "extreme cruelty" against civilians.

Antoinette Gadie, of the church's Women's Division, said she is particularly in tune with the suffering of women and children. The images of mothers fleeing with children in an attempt to escape the violence "go straight to our hearts," she added.

Samuel Koffi, an assistant to Boni, put it bluntly: "Do we want another Rwanda in Africa?"

He is hoping U.S. churches will become aware of the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire and help advocate for U.S. government assistance.

Americans in particular should relate to the threat against principles of democracy and freedom, said Emmanuel Ackah, chairman of the Methodist Church financial board. "The danger we are facing is that democracy is not valid in our country," he noted. "If we had a real democracy, we would not have this war."

Although politicians sometimes try to use religious differences to create tension, that is not the problem in Cote d'Ivoire, according to the Rev. Isaac Bodje, who monitors Christian-Muslim relations for the Methodists. In fact, Christians and Muslims have often spoken "with one voice" to denounce injustices, he said.

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