Wires

UPDATE 1-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

(Adds details from the report)

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 awaiting trial in The Haguefor 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 their goal was to "destabilize"the government in Ivory Coast and return to power.

The observations were in an interim report from theso-called U.N. Group of Experts, which monitors compliance withthe 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 findings appear to add credence to allegations made bythe Ivorian authorities that military and civilian officials ofthe former government, many of whom fled across the border atthe end of a brief conflict last year, are continuing theirfight against President Alassane Ouattara's government fromGhanaian soil.

The experts said that some pro-Gbagbo field commanders,collectively known as "the generals," boasted nicknames like"Western Tarzan," "Bob Marley," "Bushdog" and "Iron Jacket."

The experts also identified the leaders of a June 2012operation that led to the deaths of seven U.N. peacekeepers fromNiger. One of the leaders went by the alias "Rambo."

The peacekeepers were killed when their patrol came underfire close to Ivory Coast's porous border with Liberia, in whatIvorian authorities said was a cross-border raid. Ivory Coastannounced in July that four men had been arrested in Liberia andwould be extradited to stand trial.

Ivory Coast announced on Monday that it would reopen itseastern border with Ghana, more than two weeks after it wasclosed over a series of deadly attacks Ivorian officials saidwere launched from Ghanaian territory.

Ghana has said the pro-Gbagbo exiles are political refugeesand has promised to investigate the attacks, which have worsenedrelations already strained by Accra's refusal to act oninternational arrest warrants for former members of Gbagbo'sgovernment issued by Ivory Coast last year.

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

ATTEMPTS TO RECRUIT MALI ISLAMISTS

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.

"On 12 July, 2012, a meeting took place in Takoradi (Ghana)where various exiled groups supporting Gbagbo united theirefforts and defined a course of action with a view of returningto power in Cote d'Ivoire, including the development of apolitical and military strategy to identify possible bases ofoperations in neighboring countries such as Mali," it said.

Pro-Gbagbo elements appeared to be trying to recruitIslamist rebels in Mali while encouraging the country's militaryjunta to help destabilize Ivory Coast, the report said.

It said there were contacts between Gbagbo backers and AnsarDine, an Islamist group among those in control in northern Mali.Ansar Dine is aligned with al Qaeda and promotes adherence tostrict Islamic law.

Asked why supporters of Gbagbo, a Christian, would bealigning themselves with Islamists, a U.N. official toldReuters: "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.

The experts' report on Ivory Coast also said Ouattara'sgovernment may have violated a U.N. arms embargo by importingmilitary radio equipment, uniforms and knives.

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

(Editing by David Brunnstrom and Christopher Wilson)

((louis.charbonneau@thomsonreuters.com)(+1-212-355-6053))

Keywords: IVORYCOAST GHANA/UN