As the Côte d'Ivoire government clears its protected forests of illegal settlers. In June, about 25,000 dwellers were violently evicted from the Niegre Forest in the Dix-Huit Montagnes region to the west of the country. Their settlements were destroyed with bulldozers. Over the last 20 years, however, illegal settlers - the vast majority of whom are non-Ivorian West African citizens - have cut down trees to grow cocoa, destroying almost 70 percent of the 34,000 hectares of protected forest in the national park Mount Peko National Park, 200 km north of Niegre.
A number of natural forests have been degraded over the course of the years in this West African nation, and now more than 75 percent of all Ivorian forests have now disappeared.
"All classified forests will be rid of illegals. We have to stop the desert below the desert," stated Mathieu Babaud Darret, Minister of Water and Forests, during a press conference on Jun. 13 to launch the voluntary partnership agreement between the EU and Côte d'Ivoire to stop illegal logging.
But environmentalists say that this crucial move might lead to conflict in an already tense region. "I am in favour of evictions, but it should not be brutal. These are fragile populations," Egnankou Wadja Mathieu, professor at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny University's Department of Botany and director of the NGO SOS Foret, told IPS.