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Questions Remain as Ivory Coast President Promises to Enact Peace Accord - 2004-08-06


Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has vowed to implement a peace accord reached with northern-based rebels in Ghana last month. But in his first public comment since the signing of the deal, Mr. Gbagbo refused to address a growing controversy on how to interpret certain parts of the deal.

Speaking late Friday on the eve of the 44th anniversary of Ivory Coast's independence, Mr. Gbagbo said Ivorians are getting closer and closer to ending the crisis that has split the world's leading cocoa producer in two since September 2002.

He added that Ivorians are lifting the last obstacles and threats to peace with the help of African neighbors and the international community.

He says Ivorians will now implement the deal even though he says there are a lot of rumors and in his words "amusing commentary" about what it means.

Mr. Gbagbo said that everyone should restrict themselves to reading the accord signed in Accra. The deal seeks to clarify a French-brokered accord, which was signed in January 2003 but never implemented.

Its most controversial point concerns whether the constitution will be changed to ease nationality requirements for candidates to the presidency. Previous rules have prevented popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara from running.

The accord signed in Accra says Mr. Gbagbo must use his constitutional powers to modify the law, leading his supporters to say he will call for a referendum as is stipulated in the constitution. But opposition politicians and rebels insist the Accra accord calls for Mr. Gbagbo to make the change directly with an amendment.

Friday, Mr. Gbagbo did nothing to clarify the debate. He also said to speak more forcefully he needs to do more traveling to meet leaders in the region and wait for the end of the war.

His speech comes as the power-sharing reconciliation government is set to resume work Monday after a four-month boycott by the opposition and rebels. They accuse Mr. Gbagbo and his party of blocking the French-brokered deal. They also left the government after a deadly security crackdown on opposition supporters in Abidjan.

The new Accra accord says constitutional changes included in the accord must be approved by lawmakers and set in motion before the start of the disarmament process, now scheduled for October 15.

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