Ivory Coast exiles set up strategic command in Ghana-UN panel

* Pro-Gbagbo exiles hire mercenaries from Ghana,Liberia-panel * Ties between Ghana and Ivory Coast have been strained * Gbagbo backers said trying to recruit Islamists in Mali By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Exiles supporting IvoryCoast's former president Laurent Gbagbo have established a basein neighboring Ghana from which they are working to destabilizethe current Ivorian government, according to excerpts from a newreport by a U.N. expert panel.

The supporters of Gbagbo, who is in The Hague awaiting trialfor crimes against humanity, have a "military structure," havehired mercenaries in Ghana and Liberia and have establishedseveral training camps in eastern Liberia, the report said.

"They (Ivorian exiles) have established a strategic commandin Ghana," it said, adding that the exiles' goal was to"destabilize" the government in Ivory Coast and return to power.

The observations were contained in an interim report fromthe so-called U.N. Group of Experts, which monitors compliancewith the Ivory Coast sanctions regime.

The group plans to discuss its report with members of theU.N. Security Council's Ivory Coast sanctions committee onFriday, U.N. diplomats said.

Excerpts and information from the report, which alsomentioned some less serious potential violations of the U.N.sanctions regime by the Ivorian government, were given toReuters by a U.N. official and Security Council diplomats.

The experts' findings would appear to add credence toallegations made by the Ivorian authorities that top militaryand civilian officials in the former regime, many of whom fledacross the border at the end of a brief conflict last year, arecontinuing their fight against the government of PresidentAlassane Ouattara from Ghanaian soil.

The experts said that some of pro-Gbagbo field commanderssported exotic battle names like "Western Tarzan" and "BobMarley."

Ivory Coast announced on Monday that it would reopen itseastern border with Ghana, more than two weeks after it was shutover a series of deadly attacks Ivorian officials said werelaunched from Ghanaian territory.

Ghana has said the pro-Gbagbo exiles are political refugeesand has promised to help investigate the attacks launched fromits territory, which worsened ties already strained by Accra'srefusal to act on international arrest warrants targeting formermembers of Gbagbo's regime issued by Ivory Coast last year.

Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat in a 2010 election won byOuattara sparked a brief war last year that killed more than3,000 people.


The experts' report said pro-Gbagbo supporters were alsolooking to operate from Mali, which descended into chaos inMarch when soldiers toppled the president and left a powervacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of thecountry. Islamist extremists, some al Qaeda allies, hijacked therevolt in northern Mali.

"In mid July 2012, a meeting took place in Takoradi (Ghana)where various ... groups supporting Gbagbo united their effortsand defined a course of action with a view of returning to powerin Cote d'Ivoire, including the development of a political andmilitary strategy to identify possible bases of operations inneighboring countries such as Mali," the report said.

It said that pro-Gbagbo elements appeared to be attemptingto recruit Islamist rebels in Mali and were also encouraging thecountry's military junta to help destabilize Ivory Coast.

The report said there were contacts between Gbagbo backersand Ansar Dine, an Islamist group among those in control innorthern Mali. Ansar Dine is aligned with al Qaeda and promotesadherence to strict Islamic law.

Asked why the supporters of Gbagbo, a Christian, would bealigning themselves with Islamists, a U.N. official told Reuterson condition of anonymity: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

The West African regional group ECOWAS is planning amilitary intervention to end the Islamists' control of northernMali, although it has yet to receive the necessary authorizationfrom the U.N. Security Council. The council has asked ECOWAS fora clearer outline of its strategy.

The experts' report on Ivory Coast also said Ouattara'sgovernment may have violated the U.N. arms embargo still inplace by importing military radio equipment, uniforms andknives.

It said there had been smuggling too of Ivorian cashew nutsand cocoa to Ghana, and possibly skimming off of oil revenues.This was not necessarily financing pro-Gbagbo elements but wasdiverting financial resources away from the government.

U.N. sanctions on Ivory Coast have been in place since 2004and also include restrictions on the export of rough diamonds.

(Editing by David Brunnstrom)