Abidjan: Ivory Coast`s military and rebels will deploy 4,000 extra troops in rebel territory to secure a presidential run-off election on November 28, they said on Friday, ahead of a close contest that could easily turn violent.
The troops would be additional to the 8,000 former rebel troops and government military police jointly deployed throughout the country for the first round, Colonel Rene Sako, army operations chief, told Reuters in an interview.
The first round of elections passed off peacefully, putting President Laurent Gbagbo just in the lead with 38 percent of the vote, meaning he will face opposition challenger Alassane Ouattara, who got 32 percent, in run-off expected to be tense.
The poll is meant to reunite Ivory Coast for the first time since a 2002-3 war left half of it in rebel hands, ending years of military and political stalemate in what was once the country with West Africa`s brightest economic prospects.
With the next round being "winner takes all," many fear violence could erupt between supporters of the two longstanding foes if the result of a close second round is disputed.
The world`s top cocoa grower has a long history of trouble at election time.
"We are going to deploy 2,000 (government) soldiers in the CNO (rebel-held central, north and western) zones," Sako told Reuters.
Despite a string of peace deals and disarmament programmes, the former rebels remain in control of the north, which they seized during the war.
"In view of the need to secure the presidential election, elements of the Ivory Coast armed forces have been ordered (by President Gbagbo) to deploy across the whole country, in particular in the CNO zones," Sako said.
Bamba Affoussi, spokeswoman for the New Forces rebels, said the move had been made in agreement with them and would boost the total active force to 12,000, from 8,000 previously, with a joint reserve force of 2,600 troops.
"This is not going to pose any problem. There was a discussion before. After the first round of the vote that the population said they wanted more security," she said by phone.
"We are also increasing our deployment ... there are 2,000 extra soldiers from the New Forces."
Some 9,500 UN soldiers and police are also deployed throughout Ivory Coast to help keep order.
Despite the agreement, a heavy deployment of government soldiers into rebel territory still has the potential to raise tensions, especially since the rebels are sympathetic to Gbagbo`s rival.
Gbagbo has accused Ouattara, a northerner, of being behind the northern-led rebellion that tried to oust him in 2002. Ouattara denies the charge but he won landslides in most of the rebel-held territories, where his support base is strongest.
So disappointed were Gbagbo`s hard-line supporters at his performance in the north, that his campaign manager Pascal Affi N`Guessan expressed doubts about the validity of the vote in areas "where the state does not exercise full control."