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International Working Group Seeks Key Role in Ivory Coast

While naming a transitional prime minister for divided Ivory Coast, late Sunday, African mediators also stressed the importance of the international working group that will assist him in making sure disarmament and elections take place within the next 11 months.

Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Oluyemi Adeniji says the international working group will closely follow implementation of the stalled peace deal and the work of the new Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny.

The group, known locally by its French acronym, GIT, will report to the three current mediators in the crisis, the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa and Niger.

It was established by United Nations Security Council resolution 1633 that established a one-year transition period, following the failure to hold elections as scheduled in October this year.

So far, the group has been active with political parties and rebels, but one civil society leader, Patrick Ngouan, hopes it will cast a wider reach, in the weeks ahead.

"We think that they must not have the position of the politicians," he said. "They must go over politicians and take into account the position of civil society. We have good solutions to suggest to them so they have to have discussions with us and to have our point of view."

Mabri Toikeuse, a leader of the opposition party founded for former coup leader, General Robert Guei, who was defeated by Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo in elections in 2000, and then killed during the first hours of the September 2002 rebel insurgency, agrees.

He says there has been too much partisan bickering since peace negotiations began.

"What we are expecting now is that the U.N. and the international community take any kind of decision," he said. "Never mind people who talk. The important thing now is peace for people in the country. They've been suffering for three years and this is enough. We should stop that now and think about people and get the change for young people and poor people in the rural areas, [so they can] have a chance to come back to life and be happy with their citizen status in this country."

Analysts of the Ivory Coast crisis say some politicians in the south and rebels in the north have started taking advantage of the war in economic terms, and that maybe financial sanctions will be needed to pressure them in accepting moves toward peace.

But a top political rebel official, Amadou Kone, tells VOA he worries about certain members of the international working group, which he believes come from countries favoring Mr. Gbagbo.

"It is a good thing to have an international group working, but I think we have to prepare ourselves because there are major problems. The first one is the member of this commission, as you know New Forces, said we don't want Guinea and South Africa in this group," said Mr. Kone. "So we have many reserves and we think that this group will have many, many difficulties to work."

Other members come from the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the international organization of Francophone countries, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, France, the United States and Britain, as well as several other African countries.

Major challenges for this group and the new prime minister will include establishing a national election commission obtaining disarmament from militias and rebels and getting many northerners papers so they can become Ivorian citizens, as well as voters.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

Officials close to Mr. Gbagbo said they would work with the international working group, as long as it respects the Ivorian constitution, an argument they have used in the past to stall reforms included in successive peace deals.

But a similar international working group was instrumental in bringing peace to neighboring Liberia, as well as making sure post-transitional elections in that war-shattered nation were peaceful.