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Warring Parties in Ivory Coast Edge Closer to Peace

  • Nico Colombant

Warring parties in Ivory Coast are trying to resume their often stalled disarmament process, while opposition leaders are reacting positively to a letter by South African mediator Thabo Mbeki on who should be allowed to run in October presidential elections.

An Ivorian army helicopter landed at the rebel-held airport of Bouake, bringing top Ivorian military and government officials to discuss resuming the disarmament process with northern-based rebels. Also present were the heads of the French and U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The head of the Ivorian national committee known as DDR, for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, Alain Donwahi, says a new peace accord signed last week in Pretoria has given new impetus to the process.

"I am confident because the two armies are here in the same room and ready to talk together again," he said. "I think DDR as a whole has already started. DDR is a whole process and it has already started. This is part of DDR and I think this shows the belligerents want to go to peace and we will help them go to peace."

A spokesman for the rebel New Forces, Cisse Sindou, said they are ready to disarm, but that Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo must also disarm new recruits and militias, including what he says are former child soldiers from neighboring conflicts.

"We are ready to disarm, but Gbagbo should really stop recruiting and stop rearming himself," he said. "We do not want any genocide also in northern parts and the peace process might be in jeopardy if nothing is done to stop Gbagbo recruiting those Liberian and Sierra Leonean minors as militias."

Army officials have denied the accusations, saying the rebels might be making these charges to avoid disarming.

The senior Africa analyst at the London-based Control Risks Group, Kojo Bedu-Addo, says under the protocol of disarmament many rebels who were part of the army before the start of their insurgency, could actually be reintegrated.

"The New Forces indeed were part of the wider Ivorian army before September 2002 so there is a question as to who is former military and who is militia," he said. "In that dynamic, there is also a question of whether these militias do become civilians and would be disarmed or reintegrated into a wider new national army."

Another question on the minds of many Ivorians is who will be able to run in October presidential elections.

Presidential spokesman Desire Tagro read a letter announcing Mr. Mbeki's decision on this topic, indicating Mr. Gbagbo should use all his constitutional authority in times of war to allow all signatories of the initial 2003 French-mediated peace deal to choose their candidate of choice.

Mr. Tagro said this was just a proposal. But opposition parties said it meant recently excluded candidates would be allowed to run, as has been the request of the rebels since the start of their insurgency.

Previous peace deals also addressed this point, but these were never fully implemented or clear to begin with.

Mr. Gbagbo was not present at the disarmament festivities. He has organized a series of meetings with different groups in the southern commercial capital Abidjan to explain to them the new peace deal. His first meeting will be Monday with youth supporters who have gone on looting rampages to oppose previous v peace deals. He will end his consultations by meeting with the army early next month.

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