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Ivory Coast Peace Remains Elusive


September 19 marks the third anniversary of the start of the civil war that divided Ivory Coast in two. Despite repeated attempts at mediation and the presence of a U.N. mission and international peacekeepers, a resolution to the stagnant conflict remains elusive.

For a Ghanaian cook, working in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, a commute that once took half an hour has turned into a daily ordeal. Today it took him more than two hours.

"When I was coming, police people stopped us, then asked for [our] papers," he said. "So, when we gave our papers, they pocketed (the documents) of the foreigners. After, they asked us to pay 5,000, 5,000 CFA ($10 U.S.) each."

Ivory Coast has yet to witness the levels of violence prevalent in conflicts in neighboring Liberia or Sierra Leone. But three years into a conflict that has seen it divided between northern rebels and the southern-based government, what once was West Africa's most prosperous nation has changed in other ways.

Every few hundred meters, police and army roadblocks dot the principal arteries of Abidjan. They are part of a new security apparatus set up by President Laurent Gbagbo to combat, what he called at the time, rampant crime and insecurity in a city that has been rocked by violent rioting.

In the north, especially, infrastructure is crumbling and basic services are unavailable.

In the de facto rebel capital, Bouake, one man, listing a string of past failed peace agreements, says he has little reason to be optimistic about the future.

"There is no hope," he said. "They have Marcoussis, Accra. I think that the political men do not want peace."

After an early intervention by French military, Ivory Coast's civil war has been largely frozen, with the exception of one week in November 2004. French soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers patrol a buffer zone between the rebels and government troops.

Opposition member Maurice Guikahue blames the latest mediator, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, for the current lack of progress toward peace and for losing the trust the rebels.

"The first quality for mediation is confidence," said Mr. Guikahue. "And if one of the belligerents has no confidence in the mediation, it is difficult."

U.N. officials say elections scheduled for October 30 will now need to be postponed.

Rebels and opposition leaders have called for a transitional government to step in after President Laurent Gbagbo's term expires next month. The president says he will not give up power, and that the constitution allows him to remain.

In a speech in the Abidjan suburb of Jaquesville Sunday, President Gbagbo said an election delay would not signal a return to violence.

Lambert Sery Bailly is a member of the president's communication team.

"The message that he gave, he reassured the population of Jaquesville and the people of Cote d'Ivoire that after the 30th [of October], there would be no civil war in the country," said Mr. Bailly.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, speaking Sunday to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, renewed the threat of sanctions against those considered to be blocking the peace process. Ivory Coast is under a U.N. arms embargo and there have been increasing calls for sanctions to be applied as a way of forcing progress in implementing peace.

But in Abidjan, the cook from Ghana remains skeptical about Ivory Coast's future.

"You know, the situation here, anything can happen at any time," he added. "So, we are just looking for it. What has been going on, and what will happen later, I do not know."

Both sides in the conflict are commemorating the third anniversary of the start of the war, with a military parade and athletic competitions in Bouake, and a ceremony for war victims, as well as a peace concert in Abidjan.

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