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Divided Ivory Coast Celebrates Independence Day - 2004-08-07

Separate celebrations took place Saturday in the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south of Ivory Coast to mark the 44th anniversary of independence from colonial power France. The west African nation remains divided nearly two years after a failed coup attempt plunged the country into civil war, and several peace accords signed since then have failed to be implemented.

Spokesman Sidiki Konate, of the rebel faction, New Forces, that controls the north of the country, says this year's celebrations are special because, next year, Ivory Coast will be reunified and will jointly acknowledge Independence Day.

"It is now 44 years that our country was born, and we are in a complex situation, because the country is still divided on two sides, but we are not on the way to make secession," she said. "We recognize the unity of our country. So, we have to celebrate with our population and our military. All are thinking that it will be the last special Independence Day in Bouake because, maybe in one year, we will be in the peace process. That means we could have the reunification of our country."

Independence Day falls just one week after all the political factions from Ivory Coast signed a new peace accord in Accra, Ghana. The accord intends to lead the nation toward disarmament of the rebels and paramilitaries this October.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo praised the factions of the southern-based national armed forces of Ivory Coast and police forces in a ceremony at the presidential palace.

After the military portion of the ceremony, President Gbagbo addressed the crowd of invited guests.

President Gbagbo told a joke about a man who wishes any injury made against him to be double for his neighbor, and said he had told the joke at the peace talks summit last week.

The first step of implementing the new peace accord is for the national power-sharing government, which stopped fully functioning in May, to reconvene a Cabinet ministers' meeting. That meeting has been rescheduled for the third time, and is expected to take place this week.