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Blue Berets Begin Peacekeeping Duties in Ivory Coast - 2004-04-05


The United Nations has officially begun its peacekeeping mission in divided Ivory Coast.

The Ivorian Republican Guard played horns Monday as West African peacekeepers marched to be given their United Nations blue berets.

Thirteen-hundred West African soldiers previously serving as part of a regional force now become the first members of a U.N. force that will grow to more than 6,000 over the coming months.

The force will include soldiers from Morocco, Bangladesh and Ukraine. The commander of the force, known by its French acronym, ONUCI, is Senegalese General Abdoulaye Fall.

U.N. special representative Albert Tevoedjre said it should be a day of joy and hope for Ivorians.

But he warned that the genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago must remain in people's memories, as well as the just-ended 14-year civil war in Liberia, saying such bloodshed must be avoided.

Reading a statement by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. Tevoedjre called on opposition parties and rebels to rejoin the disbanded power-sharing government.

He also urged President Laurent Gbagbo to cooperate with a U.N. investigation into violence following last's month aborted opposition march. Opposition leaders and human rights groups claim several hundred people were killed in a crackdown by security forces and militias close to Mr. Gbagbo.

The prime minister of the reconciliation government, Seydou Diarra, said he hoped the U.N. force could fulfill its mandate of preparing free and fair elections in 2005.

The U.N. force is also due to help 4,000 French soldiers already on the ground to enforce a cease-fire as well as to ensure security throughout the world's leading cocoa producer. The force's biggest challenge will be to disarm former fighters.

Spokesman Sidiki Konate says the New Forces northern-based rebels are ready to disarm as long as militias and new army recruits also do the same.

"It has to be a disarmament of all the forces," he said. "You can read what the United Nations writes for this mission. It is the disarmament of all the forces, and we are not against it."

Rebels and the opposition are also calling for the full implementation of the sweeping power-sharing peace deal signed in France in January 2003, and the right to hold peaceful protests.

Ivory Coast has been divided in two since an insurgency in September 2002 by mainly northern officers complaining of economic and political discrimination against northerners.

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