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Ivory Coast President, Rebel Leader Sign New Deal to End Stalemate


The president of Ivory Coast and the northern-based rebel leader have signed a new deal to end a five-year division of the country. It includes provisions for a new government, reintegrating rebels into the army and lifting a buffer zone between the government-run south and rebel-held north, within 10 months. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar the agreement signed in Burkina Faso follows many other failed meditation attempts.

The signing of the deal between Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro took place in Ouagadougou, before mediator and current head of the West African group, ECOWAS, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore.

Mr. Compaore congratulated the two sides for burying the hatchet of war.

He said there should be no winner or losers, but partners walking together toward peace.

Mr. Gbagbo thanked him and the people of Burkina Faso for their hard work.

He said the new deal was sewing loose strings back into a disjointed peace process.

Rebel leader Soro said he was overjoyed and could barely speak.

He said the timing was right for the new deal, as Mr. Compaore is head of ECOWAS, while another neighboring president, John Kufuor of Ghana, is head of the African Union.

Mr. Gbagbo and Soro are due to meet Mr. Kufuor this week in Ghana on the sidelines of that country's 50th year anniversary festivities.

Mr. Gbagbo had called for the talks that led to this new deal, saying previous mediation efforts, including by the former colonial power France and the United Nations had failed.

Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Youssouf Ouedraogo said these are the first talks to really focus on the protagonists of the Ivorian conflict.

"In this agreement, we have considered that parties who have an army, these are the parties who are the most important, because they can use the weapons, they can use their army to fight, the others have no army," said Youssouf Ouedraogo. "Those who have armies have to accept to be together and to accept peace."

He said the priority would be to have free and fair elections in Ivory Coast, but did not mention a date. The previous U.N deal, which was not being implemented, had called for a vote by October.

One of the first signposts of the new deal is to form a new government within five weeks, to be chosen directly by the signatories of the deal, rather than by international mediators, as was the case previously. It also calls for a new command structure of the Ivorian army to include rebel leaders, and the disarmament of southern militias.

Ivorian journalists said the main sticking point in previous deals - identification of who is Ivorian - is not well explained, while enforcement of the deal is also vague, even as it calls for the gradual retreat of French and U.N. peacekeepers.

Main opposition leaders were given a role as over-seers of the peace process.

Voting cards are to be distributed before the next election to undocumented Ivorians, but without a wholesale identification process, as previously requested by rebels.

They took up arms in late 2002, saying they were fighting for equal rights for millions of northerners, often treated as second class citizens or foreigners.

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