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Ivorian President Speaks at Disarmament Ceremony

Speaking at a disarmament ceremony in the Northern city of Bouake, Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo, said the country is at peace, and must work quickly towards holding elections. Selah Hennessy reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar that participants say the ceremony was a pivotal step in the country's peace process, but analysts warn that many arms remain in the country.

Ivory Coast's prime minister, rebel leader Guillaume Soro, rallied the crowded stadium in Bouake by calling for unity in the once war-torn country.

Later, President Gbagbo told the audience that the war in Ivory Coast is finished and the government can prepare for democratic elections.

This was Mr. Gbagbo's first visit to Bouake since civil war erupted in 2002, leaving the North and South of the country divided for almost five years.

Speaking from the airport in Bouake, presidential advisor Lambert Bahi says the ceremony is a crucial step in the country's home-grown peace process, which began in March.

"This is very important because this is an indication that one, the war is over, second that the country is going to be reunified," he said. " That means there will be no rebel controlled-zone and one zone for the government. It will be one country, indivisible."

He says the ceremony's location, Bouake, is very significant.

"Bouake used to be the headquarters of the rebels. This is the city where they had their administration, their military headquarters, everything. So Bouake used to be the city that was indicative of the partition of the country," he said.

An analyst with London-based Global Insight, Kissy Agyeman, says that the ceremony is important as a symbolic gesture. But she says it does not stand as a guarantee that things will improve.

She adds that a previous disarmament ceremony held in the South, in which Loyalists laid down their arms, proved disappointing. Agyeman says arms remained in circulation, and of those that were handed over, many were already defunct.

"There has to be a real robust follow-through of this process and as I understand there has been no real time-tabling of how the disarmament process should occur," she said.

She says the real test to the peace process will be the issue of voter identification.

"There has been a lot of talk as to him wanting to push things forward, but really it has not been put to the test so much and what really will be decisive is this identification process and whether it will be an impartial undertaking or not," she said.

A Dakar-based analyst from the non-governmental organization International Crisis Group agrees. Gilles Yabi says the government must work quickly toward providing identity papers to Ivorians living in the North - a key demand of the rebels throughout the civil war.

"What is expected now is for the government to proceed with this peace agreement of Ouagadougou - that means launching very rapidly the concrete operation of delivery of identity papers to Ivorians," he said.

Mr. Gbagbo said during the ceremony that he will address the country again on August 6, with further instructions about the elections, which are expected to take place early next year.