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Ivory Coast: Former Rebels Challenge Ministerial Appointments

In Ivory Coast, former rebel groups, now called the New Forces, are challenging appointments to the key ministerial posts of defense and security. They say they will not begin a disarmament program, unless the ministers are appointed by consensus.

The New Forces say that the appointments announced late Friday were made unilaterally by President Laurent Gbagbo. They say that goes against the terms of the Marcoussis peace accord, signed in France in January.

The New Forces group combines three separate rebel groups, which took up arms against the government of President Gbagbo last September.

Under a peace deal brokered by France, the former rebels were brought into the government to begin a process of reconciliation scheduled to lead to elections in 2005.

The New Forces Saturday reiterated their demand that the appointments to the strategic posts of defense and security be made by consensus. Only then, they say, will their forces begin a program of disarmament.

Rebel groups continue to control the north of Ivory Coast, splitting the country in two. Reunification cannot take place until a disarmament program is agreed.

Rene Amani was named Friday as defense minister, and Martin Bleou was given the portfolio for security. Both men were billed as "neutral" choices, as they are not affiliated with any political party. Mr. Amani was the long-time leader of the office for the stabilization of cocoa - Ivory Coast's Number One export - while Mr. Bleou is the president of the Ivorian League for Human Rights.