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Disagreement Emerges in Ivory Coast Over Ghana Accord - 2004-08-02

Ink has barely dried on the Ivory Coast's new peace agreement signed in Ghana last week, but the signatories already disagree on what the document means and how to implement it.

Northern-based rebels say the Ghana accord gives new hope and reinforces a stalled peace deal reached by political parties and rebel groups in France in January 2003.

Speaking from Accra, rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate says it's important the agreement was reached in Africa by African leaders and U.N. officials, so that it will be that much more legitimate.

Officials from President Laurent Gbagbo's party say the accord also gives much-needed deadlines.

The accord provides for the disarmament process to begin October 15 at the latest and calls on President Gbagbo to use his constitutional powers before the end of September to change the constitutional provision on who is eligible to run in presidential elections.

Under Article 35 of the constitution, candidates for presidency must have parents who are both Ivorian. That provision excluded popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara from previous elections. The 2003 French peace agreement eased the restriction to require that only one parent must be Ivorian, but it was never implemented.

Now, there is disagreement over what the new Accra accord means.

Rebels and opposition parties say Mr. Gbagbo must make the change through a constitutional amendment, while the president's supporters say the change can be made only in a national referendum. A lawyer for war victims, Patricia Hamza, says this means the rebels and opposition will not get the change they want.

"They lost because Alassane Ouattara, article 35 of the constitution, can't be changed," she explained. "All the populations in Cote d'Ivoire, they are going to refuse to change this article. I know Kofi Annan, I hear Sidiki Konate, they interpret it differently. I don't know why. They wrote clearly the agreement and I don't know why they interpret it differently."

Mr. Ouattara himself already sounds like a presidential candidate. He says there is renewed hope for free and democratic elections to be held as scheduled in October 2005 and for Ivorians to elect a government that will address the country's economic downturn.

Disarmament also remains a point of discord between the rebels and the president. The rebels say several thousand new recruits from the Ivorian army must be disarmed, but army officers say they are not bound by the October 15 date.

A committee of U.N. officials and African representatives that has been set up to check on progress of Accra's implementation, can help clear up some of the contentious points, but Angola's Prime Minister Piedade Dos Santos, who attended the talks, warned it is up to the Ivorian parties to do the work. If the willingness is there, he says he is sure Ivory Coast can return to peace and prosperity.

This week, President Gbagbo is expected to convene the power-sharing government, which has not been meeting since the army's crackdown on an opposition protest in late March. Whether he will reinstate three opposition and rebel ministers, including rebel leader Guillaume Soro, remains to be seen.