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Disarmament Process Kicks Off in Ivory Coast


Rebels and government troops in Ivory Coast are set to begin the long-awaited disarmament process on Saturday, a critical first step before forming a new national army is the divided country. Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel turned prime minister, Guillaume Soro, are expected to attend Saturday's ceremonies together. Naomi Schwarz reports from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

A spokesman for President Gbagbo says the president is optimistic about disarmament.

The spokesman, Gervais Coulibaly, says the president feels it is a crucial element of the peace process.

He says the president is confident the disarmament will succeed because the decision comes from both the rebel and government sides.

The process, overseen by a joint command of rebel and government officers, calls for soldiers to regroup into fewer barracks before giving up their arms and, ultimately joining a new, mixed national army with the rebels.

But analyst with British-based Chatham House, Daniel Balint-Kurti, says big questions remain.

"If disarmament does take place, then that would be an historic step. But it is a very big if," he said.

He says numerous past attempts at disarmament have proved largely symbolic. He says there are a number of sticking points that leave both sides reluctant to give up their weapons. One of the biggest is that the identification process, one of the core issues that led to civil war, has not yet been resolved.

"It would highly controversial if the rebels accepted a full disarmament but then did not actually achieve what they claim is their main objective: the question of identification, identity papers for all Ivorians they believe should have them," he said.

Balint-Kurti says questions over payment also cause problems.

Earlier this week, rebel soldiers in Bouaké, a rebel stronghold, fired shots and stole vehicles to press demands for a bonus before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Rebel leaders said a cash shortage forced them to delay paying 125 troops until the following day.

There have been several attempts to reunite Ivory Coast since a failed coup in 2002 led to the country being divided between rebels in the north and forces led by President Gbagbo in the south. The latest peace process, signed in neighboring Burkina Faso in March, was signed directly by the president and rebel leader Soro.

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