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Ivory Coast President Passes Key Peace Reforms


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has used special executive powers to pass key peace reforms, more than two years after they were initially agreed to in France following negotiations with northern rebels and the opposition. Mr. Gbagbo says disarmament and scheduled October elections must now take place. The president's move came under threat of international sanctions.

Speaking on state television, Mr. Gbagbo said war has lasted too long and peace must now take hold to allow reconstruction of battered and divided Ivory Coast.

He said based on recommendations from South African mediator Thabo Mbeki he would use special crisis constitutional powers to put into law major reforms. Rebels have been demanding these since the start of their insurgency in late 2002.

Mr. Gbagbo listed all the reforms ranging from a new nationality code, which could turn millions of foreigners into voting Ivorians, to forming a new independent electoral commission. He also implemented a new commission on human rights that will be mandated to look into abuses from both sides since the war began.

Mr. Gbagbo finished his speech saying it was his wish that friends and family, living in the south, west, center, east and north of the country could be reunited after being divided nearly three years.

Mr. Gbagbo used the same special crisis powers previously to allow popular northern opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, who has been barred from recent elections over doubts on his nationality, to compete in the October poll.

The Ivorian president made his speech Friday under the threat of sanctions from the United Nations and the African Union if the reforms were not passed by July 15.

A rebel spokesman, Cisse Sindou, said lawmakers should still be punished, because he says following the latest round of peace talks in Pretoria, they were asked to pass the laws but refused to do so.

"The last declaration of Pretoria said that anyone [not doing] his job should be open to sanctions, this is concerning everybody including the deputies at the national assembly," said Mr. Sindou.

Mr. Sindou also expressed concern that Mr. Gbagbo was using his special crisis powers, known as article 48 in the Ivorian constitution, to make changes without consulting other parties to the peace deal. He says the South African mediator is giving too much power to Mr. Gbagbo, which could create problems later.

"According to the declaration of Pretoria, it was said that if article 48 has to be used both signatory parties must agree on the use. But once again, President Mbeki gave unilaterally the decision to President Gbagbo to use article 48 to pass the laws," he added.

Rebels also said they wanted to see the exact wording of the new laws.

Pro-Gbagbo militias, new army recruits and rebel fighters must now disarm in the coming months, as part of a disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion process ahead of the scheduled October poll. Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer, has been divided in two and the scene of growing ethnic tensions and criminal activity since its war began.

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