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Ouattara faces challenge of reconciliation in Ivory Coast

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Alassane Ouattara's inauguration ceremony is Saturday
  • Ouattara takes over a troubled nation
  • Humanitarian workers say new president must address deep divisions
  • CARE's "listening center" tries to provide an outlet for traumatized people

(CNN) -- After months of uncertainty and bloodshed in Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara will take the reins of his troubled nation Saturday with the global spotlight cast upon him.

Ahead of Ouattara's inauguration in the capital, Yamoussoukro, Human Rights Watch urged the new president to hold accountable all those culpable in atrocities committed in recent years.

The global monitoring group sent a letter to Outattara also urging him to address deepening communal divisions through a truth-telling mechanism, ensure discipline among security forces and establish an independent judiciary.

"President Ouattara will be sworn in as head of a deeply fractured nation still reeling from the horrors of recent months." said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"He should waste no time in moving (Ivory Coast) out of this dark period through justice that is blind to political affiliation or rank," she said.

A humanitarian worker in Abidjan said one of Ouattara's most difficult challenges will be reconciliation, to unite people who have been divided for so long.

It will be critical for the new government to avoid reprisals between different ethnic and tribal groups, between political foes and between victims and perpetrators of murder and other atrocities, said Stephen Wallace, director of the international aid organization CARE in Ivory Coast.

CARE has already established a "listening center" at a camp for displaced people and hopes to open many more. It's a place where traumatized people can go to work through what they saw and what they feel. It's a good way, said Wallace, to prevent acts of vengeance.

"Even being a witness is such a terrible experience," Wallace said of the atrocities committed.

He said Ouattara will also have to ensure stability and confiscate weapons illegally in the hands of street gangs and militias.

"I am very hopeful," said Wallace, who first went to Ivory Coast in the 1970s as a Peace Corps volunteer. "Ouattara generates a lot of hope."

A disputed November election led to a political standoff between Ouattara and rival Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down from power. In the months after the vote, spiraling violence claimed hundreds of lives. Human rights investigators said this month that they have found a total of 10 mass graves near the commercial capital of Abidjan.

Ouattara, who assumed power after Gabgbo's capture last month, has urged the International Criminal Court to investigate "the most serious crimes committed" after the presidential poll.

Ouattara was sworn in this week, but an inauguration ceremony will take place Saturday. On hand will be U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, two of Ouattara's biggest supporters through the political crisis.

CNN's Moni Basu contributed to this report.