Mormon missionaries moved from Ivory Coast

Published: Thursday, Dec. 16 2010 9:45 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Political instability, clashes and the threat of military intervention following the Ivory Coast's disputed presidential elections last month have prompted the LDS Church to move its non-African missionaries serving in the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission to other West African nations.

"Due to the unrest surrounding the recent national election in Ivory Coast, some missionaries have been moved to other parts of the mission in Benin and Togo as a precaution," said spokesman Scott Trotter, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister, was declared the winner of the November presidential runoff by Ivory Coast's Independent Electoral Commission. However, the country's Constitutional Council invalidated those results and declared incumbent president Laurent Gbabgo the winner, with Gbabgo already having been sworn in for a new term.

As late as this week, clashes have been reported between opposing political sides throughout the country, with some commanders of national security forces threatening to take military action.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has decried what he called a "political stalemate."

"The situation is taking a worrying turn with unfolding events that could lead to widespread violence," Ban said in a Wednesday statement.

The Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission is one of eight Mormon missions in the church's Africa West Area, with four headquartered in Nigeria, two in Ghana and one in Sierra Leone.

While Benin and Togo are east of Ivory Coast, they don't share borders. Rather, Ghana is sandwiched between Ivory Coast and Togo, with Benin on the other side of Togo and next to Nigeria's west border.

With its initial missionary presence in Ivory Coast dating back to 1988, the LDS Church started 2010 with more than 14,440 members, 28 wards, 13 branches and three stakes in the country. A fourth stake was added in February.

In Togo, the church organized its first group of members — 25 in number — in 1997, with the first senior missionary couple arriving two years later and the country granting recognition to the LDS Church in 2000. As of Jan. 1 of this year, there were 1,034 members in Togo; the country currently has five branches.

The LDS Church is less developed in Benin, where there is one branch. Church membership totaled just 201 at the start of the 2010. Members have resided in Benin since 1998, with the first missionaries arriving in 2001 and the church receiving official recognition in Benin in 2003.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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