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Ivorian President Attends Militia Disarmament Ceremony


President Laurent Gbagbo has attended a ceremony in western Ivory Coast to mark militia disarmament. Experts say successful disarmament would be an important step in the country's peace process, but they also say there may be many weapons still in the region . Selah Hennessy reports from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Music played while militiamen rallied the crowd with messages of unity and peace in the Ivorian city of Guiglo.

A local journalist, Baudelaire Mieu, says thousands of people, including militiamen, government officials, UN peacekeepers, and local residents gathered to watch the ceremony.

Disarmament is central to a peace accord signed in March between rebels and the government. Under the agreement, rebel leader Guillaume Soro became prime minister.

But past attempts at disarmament have been unsuccessful, with militia groups failing to hand over all of their weapons, or demanding more money in return for complete disarmament.

Achille Tuya, an ex-militiaman, says this time disarmament will be complete. He says the militias fought brutal battles during the civil war that began in 2002, but now they want to rebuild the country and that is why they have agreed to hand over their weapons.

But Gilles Yabi, of Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says militia groups use their weapons for extortion and to gain power in the region, and he doubts they will all be willing to give that up.

He says the government must also decide who will receive so-called disarmament packages. They will probably include money and integration into the national service, in exchange for handing over weapons. "Now for the ex-militia men, I think there is just around 2,000 people who will be reintegrated who will have these reintegration packages. But militias will claim there are 12,000 people in the west who have been in the militia. So this problem has not really been resolved," he said.

Yabi said it will be difficult to completely rid the western region of weapons. "And that is why I think that the situation in the west will require very serious monitoring by impartial forces and not only by the Ivorian forces because now they do not have the capacity to maintain law and order in this region," he said.

Last week U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended that UN peacekeeping forces remain in Ivory Coast at least until the end of the year.

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