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Ivory Coast Foes Fail to Agree on Disarmament Timetable

Representatives of the opposing sides in Ivory Coast's civil war have failed to come to an agreement on a timetable for disarmament following five days of talks. Rebels say important details still need to be finalized.

Military leaders of Ivory Coast's rebel New Forces and top-level officers from the Ivorian army left the talks in the administrative capital, Yamoussoukro, late Saturday, promising to continue discussions on disarmament next week.

Both sides agreed to restart discussions on disarmament as part of a new South African-brokered peace deal, aimed at ending hostilities and preparing the country for elections scheduled for October.

The two warring factions had been expected to decide on whether to accept a proposal to begin handing in weapons on May 14.

A spokesman for the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reinsertion, Alain Donwahi, said Saturday that, although no agreement on a timetable was reached, discussions were positive and, in his words, 90 percent of the work was done. He said he expected a start date for the process to be finalized when talks resume Friday.

Under the terms of disarmament agreed to in past peace treaties, rebels and pro-government militias would turn in weapons. Soldiers recruited by the Ivorian army since the beginning of the civil war in late 2002 would be demobilized. And, former government soldiers now serving with the New Forces would be reinserted in the Ivorian army.

Ivorian military officials say they will not comment until final talks are competed. But a spokesman for the New Forces, Cisse Sindou, says he thinks both sides are now committed to ending the war, but there are still important details that need to be worked out. One of them, he says, is how to pay for the process.

"The only key question is not even dependent on the two forces," said Mr. Sindou. "It depends some on the actions of the prime minister. Some of it depends on the national commission, which is supposed to be going and finding out where the money is."

Mr. Sindou says, though the problem of dismantling pro-government militias has yet to be dealt with, the rebels remain dedicated to going through with disarmament. But, he says, whether the process succeeds or fails is still largely up to Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo.

At the request of South African President Thabo Mbeki, President Gbagbo agreed last month to use his constitutional power of decree to allow the candidacy of his chief rival, popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, whose status had been in doubt due to a controversial nationality requirement.

But Mr. Sindou says, Mr. Gbagbo's decision to continue to use the special power, granted under constitutional Article 48, is blocking the way for peace.

"If the Article 48 is still the way it is, it's very sure there will not be elections, and maybe we will not disarm. But we think that everybody is conscious of that. This is not our job. This is President Thabo Mbeki's job, and the prime minister's job."

Efforts to launch the disarmament process under previous peace deals have failed, largely due to mutual distrust.

Last month, in a show of good faith, rebels and loyalist forces began pulling heavy weaponry back from the edges of a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone that divides Ivory Coast between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south.