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Ivorian Rebels Ready to Talk About National Disarmament - 2004-07-11

Ivory Coast's main rebel group says it is ready to resume discussions about national disarmament, but it is not yet ready to begin disarming.

After more than three months of boycotting discussions on disarmament, Ivory Coast's main rebel group, the New Forces, says it is ready to rejoin a national commission that is designing the country's disarmament program.

The announcement, which followed a Friday meeting between rebel leaders and French military representatives, was welcomed by government spokesman Seri Bahy, who said disarmament would make more political reforms possible.

"It's good news," he said. "It's a good thing that our brothers have taken this important decision, which would pave the way to end the crisis, to the reunification of the country, to the preparation for the 2005 elections."

But rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate said Sunday that the rebels themselves are not yet ready to begin disarming. He says disarmament itself would be contingent on whether the government follows the terms of the French-brokered Marcoussis peace accords.

"The president of Cote d'Ivoire and his party try to reduce the problems of Ivory Coast to the disarmament question, and we think that disarmament is the last part of the Marcoussis agreement," he said. "The problems are now the political reforms, which are now necessary to be made before we come to disarmament. So we go back to the commission in order to prepare for the disarmament process, if the political reforms take form."

Rebels have accused Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo in particular of blocking implementation of the accords. The rebels, along with other signatories to the stalled peace deal, have agreed to meet Mr. Gbagbo at a meeting scheduled for July 29 in Ghana.