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Ivory Coast Rebels Refuse Pressure to Disarm


Northern-based Ivory Coast rebels are refusing mounting pressure to disarm, saying they still lack confidence in President Laurent Gbagbo to implement a stalled peace accord.

The major stumbling block has been changing article 35 of the Ivorian constitution which would ease nationality requirements to run for the presidency.

Popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara has been excluded from recent elections because of questions of whether he passes stringent nationality criteria, such as having both parents being Ivorian.

The proposal included in the 2003 French-brokered peace deal was passed by parliament this month, but Mr. Gbagbo now says it must go to a referendum.

Rebel spokesman Drissa Ouattara tells VOA Ivorians are tired of such delay tactics.

"Most of Ivorians today want to go to peace," he said. "They want to leave this war because they have been suffering since two years. Going to a referendum will not solve the problem. The actual problems can be solved without going to an election. A referendum today is a nonsense. The country is divided. How can you organize a referendum in this situation? It is not possible."

The project for the referendum was voted down in parliament this month, and will be considered again within the next three months.

In the meantime, diplomats and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has played a lead role in mediation since November when the Ivorian army violated the cease-fire, are pressuring rebels to begin disarming.

Rebel leaders are also under threat of United Nations individual sanctions which could be listed as of January 10.

Rebel spokesman Ouattara says life is difficult for ordinary citizens in the north as well, because they have no more money. The central West African bank is bringing in new coins and bills for the entire regional grouping, but without any banks northerners in Ivory Coast have been unable to trade in old currency.

"The problem here is the problem of money," said spokesman Ouattara. "It is very difficult here for the population for this population who are living here to pay change, to go to the market, because they don't have the new notes to do their transactions. Traders refuse, they are refusing to take the old notes and that is the big problem here."

Rebels say they are fighting to give equal rights to many northerners treated as second-class citizens and to ensure free and fair presidential elections in late 2005. Mr. Gbagbo has called on rebels to disarm immediately, or that it should be done by force.

A report by the U.N. leaked last week indicates there have been atrocities, including mass executions, widespread torture and rape, committed both in the government-held south and rebel-controlled north since the civil war began in September 2002.

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