Geopolitics

Ivory Coast’s Fragile Peace Threatened By Fear And Food Shortages

The new President vows reconciliation, yet some villages in western Ivory Coast are still ghost towns as residents try to recover from terrible acts of violence.

Humanitarian aid groups are being urged to stay (Sunset Parkerpix)
Humanitarian aid groups are being urged to stay (Sunset Parkerpix)
Rémi Barroux

TOULEPLEU - "I have some good news…" That is what you often say in Ivory Coast to someone who welcomes you to his home. But in the western part of the country, as President Alassane Ouattara advocates "reconciliation," news could be better. United Nations agencies and numerous humanitarian organizations are still active across the region, which was scarred by several spates of killings after the contested 2010 presidential election.

A few kilometers away from the Liberian border, Karim Abdul Diarra, prefect of Toulepleu in the Moyen-Cavally region, stares into space, sitting in front of an empty desk under a straw roof protecting him from the constant rain. He says softly "Only two months ago, Toulepleu was a ghost town. There were only stray dogs in the streets," he recalls. "It used to have 50,000 people." For a long time, the city remained a support base for former President Laurent Gbagbo's forces. People fled when the pro-Outtara forces recaptured the city early March.

The hospital of Toulepleu was entirely devastated, the schools have only gradually begun to open, and the majority of the inhabitants are still gone. Still, Karim Abdul Diarra wants to believe that the crisis is ending. Alassane Ouattara's Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (RFIC) are initiating a pacification process. They are striving to secure the area. But their presence worries the ones they defeated.

Father Cyprien, head of the Catholic mission in Duékué, sums up the situation: "Everyone went from laughter to crying."

There are currently 11,000 displaced people crammed into just seven acres if land. But that is down from just a few weeks ago when there were nearly 30,000. People have started going back home, the ghost towns are slowly repopulating. "The most difficult challenge is reconciliation," Cyprien says.

To go from Danané to Toulepleu, the white SUVs of UNICEF drove several hours across a luxuriant forest, a 50-mile track of red soil saturated with water. It took them as much time to reach Bloléquin, then Guiglo where the road becomes paved again, and finally Duékoué. This itinerary is called "the axis of death;" along the way you can see martyr villages, where burned-down houses mark sometimes unmentionable acts of violence.

From one village to another, the origins of the killers change. In some places, Liberian mercenaries are held responsible for hundreds of deaths. Elsewhere, it's the Guérés, who supported former President Gbagbo, or the Malinkés (pro- Ouattara), or even the RFIC in charge today of forging peace between the two political factions.

Food crisis

Honoré Attiowa is the chief of a small village called Sahibli near Toulepleu. "They tell us that the war is over. But just the other day, one of our camps in the plantations was set on fire." Most of the villagers are fishermen or farmers. They found their boats and equipment destroyed, their plantations pulled out or charred. After several months hiding in the bush, 700 of the 2,339 inhabitants came back. They are looking for a way to earn a living.

Across the region, farmers were unable to harvest their rice and corn fields. The crops of cacao and coffee might be lost too. A major food crisis is looming, and local officials are calling on foreign aid groups to extend their stays.

Leopold Dezon Kahi came back too. He is the Mayor of Bloléquin and fled his city when the Liberian mercenaries arrived. The irony is that he took refuge in Liberia, after a 168-kilometer walk. On March 21, Ouattara's forces entered Bloléquin. A week later, mercenaries appeared from nowhere in the courtyard of the Prefecture where 800 people where under the protection of the RFIC, and started shooting: 79 bodies were buried in a common grave.

The mayor confesses his feeling of "helplessness." He wants to believe in reconstruction: "People regain confidence: today 21,152 of the 55,000 inhabitants who lived in Bloléquin before the crisis have returned. But many are afraid to come back."

Earlier this month, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) opened a refugee camp in Nahily, near Duékoué, which now counts 700 displaced people living there. Frederic de Woelmont, the UNHCR's head of protection, said fear is still everywhere. "We can get out of the crisis, but we can also plunge back into it," he said. "Especially in this region."

Read the original article in French

Photo- Sunset Parkerpix

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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