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Ivory Coast's Prime Minister Says Voter Identification to Take Place

  • Phuong Tran

Ivory Coast's prime minister, Guillaume Soro, travelled to Burkina Faso Friday to assure the man who mediated the latest agreement between's Ivory Coast's warring sides that efforts to implement the agreement were continuing. Mr. Soro told Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Compaore, that next month he will resume the program to identify Ivorian citizens, a necessary step to hold the long-awaited presidential election. But as Phuong Tran reports from VOA's Central and West Africa bureau in Dakar, there is still some doubt that the twice-delayed election will happen anytime soon.

Identification plans have a rocky history in Ivory Coast. One year ago a similar effort to identify undocumented citizens ended in bloody clashes between President Laurent Gbagbo's supporters and opposition members. The latest peace agreement was signed early in March in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, and many former fighters still do not have proper documentation and without that they are unable to vote.

Ivory Coast analyst Daniel Balint-Kurti, a researcher with the London-based Chatham House, says even though President Gbagbo signed the peace agreement, he and his supporters may still threaten the process.

"The underlying ideology and point of view of these people have not changed," he said.

But Prime Minister Soro, a former rebel leader, remains confident this peace agreement will do what the previous ones failed to do: stop the violence between the warring sides.

"This agreement can make peace in our country if everyone does what he has to do in order to go through the peace process. Now, we are on the point of implementing this agreement," he said.

Recognition has been a key rebel demand on behalf of millions of undocumented people living in Ivory Coast. Balint-Kurti says people without identification papers are the most vulnerable to abuse, by police and others.

"Extortion by security forces has become a major problem," he said. "They think you are a criminal if you do not have an identity card."

In the March peace accord, citizen identification is a key condition to holding the presidential election, now expected to take place early next year.

Balint-Kurti says the peace agreement makes it easier than it has been for people to prove their citizenship.

"One of the stipulations of the accord was if you have a replacement birth certificate, you can get yourself listed on the voter registration list. It is a much more simple process than the procedures in place before," he said.

But Balint-Kurti adds there are still challenges to holding the presidential election.

He says Prime Minister Soro will need to find a way to revive mobile tribunals to issue replacement certificates, and to avoid the fraud that many critics said plagued previous identification efforts.