The baskets of severed hands, set down at the feet of the European post commanders, became the symbol of the Congo Free State. ... The collection of hands became an end in itself. Force Publique soldiers brought them to the stations in place of rubber; they even went out to harvest them instead of rubber... They became a sort of currency. They came to be used to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas, to replace... the people who were demanded for the forced labour gangs; and the Force Publique soldiers were paid their bonuses on the basis of how many hands they collected.
But after months of haggling over the details, Western diplomats privately question whether either side has the will to make peace -- unless outside powers leave them no other choice.
France, at sword's edge with what was once its main African partner, is unlikely to take the lead. The UN, which already has 6 000 peacekeepers manning a buffer zone between the rebel north and government south, has been suggested for a larger role -- but even the international body is accused of bias by Gbagbo's hard-liners.
Gbagbo has asked the United States to intercede, but American officials have made clear they will not take over France's role.
With many Westerners gone, there are fears the heavily Christian, pro-government militias could again turn their anger against the "outsiders" remaining: the northern Ivorians, Muslims and immigrants they accuse of supporting the rebellion.
Already, there are reports of ethnic clashes in the west of the country, causing thousands of Ivorians to stream into neighbouring Liberia.
"We, the people of the north, are targeted just like the whites, but no one comes to protect us," said an Abidjan truck driver, too afraid to give his name. When government forces raided his home in March, looking for opposition supporters, they dragged away seven relatives and shot them, he said.
"The situation is calm now," he said, "But it can explode at any time."
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