Warring sides in Ivory Coast's conflict agreed late Saturday to move forward in the long-delayed disarmament process. Both rebel forces and the army are optimistic that the divided country is moving toward peace, and say they will begin to pull heavy arms away from frontlines.
During talks in the rebel-held city of Bouake, the army and rebel forces agreed to provisional dates for the disarmament, from May 14 to July 31. They also said they would start moving heavy arms away from frontlines starting April 21.
Army spokesman Jules Yao Yao, who participated in Saturday's talks, says there will be another meeting in early May to confirm and elaborate on the disarmament plan, but he is optimistic that disarmament would really begin May 14.
Mr. Yao Yao says that a feeling of trust was established in Saturday's meeting between the two sides, which is necessary to make both sides stick to their agreement to give up their weapons. He says it is important as a show of good faith that both sides are moving their heavy arms away from frontlines.
Both the army and the so-called New Forces rebels have agreed in the past to withdraw weapons from frontlines, but the final step of making fighters give up their weapons has never taken place.
A New Forces rebel spokesman, Amadou Kone, said the meeting put forward plans to disarm only the principle belligerents of the conflict, and the New Forces could not proceed with disarmament, until they had at least an answer on the issue of militias.
Mr. Kone says, if everyone disarmed and militias still had weapons, the New Forces would have a security problem.
A peace accord signed by the major parties of the conflict at the beginning of April in the South African town of Pretoria said that the disarmament and dismantling of militias should proceed immediately, but the government has not addressed the issue of the militias.
The New Forces group has accused the government of recruiting foreign mercenaries to attack them, despite signing the Pretoria accord.
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo called a Cabinet meeting Friday for all sides to implement the Pretoria accord, which declared an end to war in Ivory Coast.
Conflict has split the country since 2002, when rebels from the north tried to launch a coup against the government. Many Ivorians fear that if the Pretoria peace deal fails, the country could break out into ethnic civil war.