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Analysts: Ivory Coast Military Unification First Step to Peace

In the Ivory Coast, President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leaders have agreed to unite government and rebel troops under one command. Analysts say this initiative, part of a peace deal agreed earlier this month, is just one step in unifying the divided nation, with more difficult negotiations still to come. Kari Barber reports from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Analyst Daniel Balint Kurti, with London-based Chatham House, says Ivorians are hopeful the integration of rebel fighters into Mr. Gbagbo's military under a deal signed Friday will be a move toward peace.

However, he notes, other peace deals have failed in the past.

"People are hopeful this could work, but having seen so many peace deals fail, and seeing the great problems surrounding some of the big issues, like identification and disarmament, people are waiting to see whether it really happens in practice before dancing in the streets," he said.

Balint Kurti says peacefully assimilating government troops and rebel fighters will be difficult.

"In the run-up to the war, many people now in the top of the rebel hierarchy were tortured by people who are now within Gbagbo's loyalist army," he added. "Now, it is going to be quite difficult for rebels and loyalists to get along. There is going to be a risk of score-settling in the army."

Under the deal, an integrated command center will be made up of an equal number of rebel troops and troops loyal to Mr. Gbagbo. Both sides are to work to demobilize militias.

Balint Kurti says that although military unification is an important step, providing national identity papers to citizens in the north will be essential.

Rebels say many descendants of former immigrants living in the north have been treated like second-class citizens and denied national identity papers and voting papers.

Under the terms of the peace accord, efforts have begun to provide those in the north with papers, but many complain the process is tedious and slow.

The peace deal signed between Mr. Gbagbo and rebel-leader Guillaume Soro also includes the creation of a transitional government by the middle of April with elections to follow. Instability in the nation has prevented presidential elections from taking place, extending Mr. Gbagbo's presidential mandate, which was originally supposed to end in October 2005.