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Ivory Coast Problems Continue, Two Years After Coup Attempt - 2004-09-14


Just days away from the second anniversary of a failed coup attempt which split Ivory Coast in two, the country continues to struggle with the issues that led to the rebellion, with no quick solution in sight.

In the early hours of September 19, 2002, the neighborhoods surrounding Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast, came under attack by rebel forces.

Factions of the army had broken away and strategically targeted military institutions and houses of cabinet ministers located around the city. The rebels were heavily armed, but government forces prevailed, at least in Abidjan and other parts of the south. When the fighting ended, the rebels controlled the north and west, and now, two years later, the country remains divided.

A French-brokered peace accord signed the following January laid the groundwork for a national unity government and set a path to peace and reunification. But that agreement has largely not been implemented. A new peace accord signed in July in Ghana by all the key political and rebel leaders is now also in trouble.

Although the national unity government has reconvened, a deadline has passed to address one of the key disputes, the issue of nationality rights of northerners.

The spokesman for the "New Forces" rebels, Sidiki Konate, says the nationality issue must be resolved before other aspects of the peace agreements can be implemented, including the disarmament scheduled to begin October 15.

"First, it is an issue of identification. We have to find a solution in the problem of nationality," he said. "But now this law has to be voted now. We agreed as Forces Nouvelles with the disarmament process but we cannot go to disarmament if the problems contained in the law are not resolved. If we have to demobilize one soldier, we have to find him an identity. We have to give him an identity card. That means the law about nationality should be voted."

Once the citizenship of northerners is settled, the next major issue to be addressed is eligibility for the presidency. Currently, the constitution allows only a person with both a mother and father who are Ivorian to run for the office of president. But northerners want this article changed so that only one parent needs to be Ivorian. Nationality issues have been used to prevent opposition politicians from seeking the presidency.

Northerner Moussa Dao, a university student, is not optimistic about the series of peace agreements or the prospects for ending the conflict in Ivory Coast. "It's difficult to say what is going to happen. I mean we've seen it since January 2003," he said. "They went to a lot of meetings, they agree on a lot of things and after basically nothing happens. And to be sincere, I don't think something is really, really going to happen really soon."

Mr. Dao has returned to his home in northern Ivory Coast for the first time in five years and says there have been many changes since he left. "I felt like there is a strong need for the population, which is first for the education system," he said. "I don't think the system is as high as it was so there obviously is that we have a lack of teachers and another thing is the economic situation. You can see that there is not a lot of young people, there is no hope right now. There is nothing to do."

The north has been cut off from government support and many of the social systems have deteriorated.

The president of a coalition of women's leaders, Mariam Gabala-Dao, says people in the government-controlled south are also weary of the political impasse that has plagued the West African nation. She says the politicians need to honor their commitments to the peace process.

"We just want them to know that the people in Cote d'Ivoire are tired of suffering," she said. "They are tired with the war. They should know that and make an effort in this agreement. For peace to come back in Cote d'Ivoire, we need to build trust and there is no trust between all the parties in conflict."

In spite of the battle fatigue, many supporters of both sides remain loyal to their positions. But the deputy U.N. representative in Ivory Coast, Alan Doss, says he is hopeful that the latest agreement will be implemented. Mr. Doss says the United Nations is preparing to help in the process of "disarmament, demobilization and reintegration", what is called "DDR" in Ivory Coast.

"There are a series of actions that were to be accomplished by the end of September and we will continue to work with the parties to the extent that we can help," he said. "We should see DDR as part of a broader effort of stabilization, of peace building if you will. And that involves bringing somebody back into society and making them productive members of society."

"Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration" are the keys to holding elections as scheduled in October of next year. But so far, two years after civil war came to the streets of Ivory Coast, the prospect of achieving that remain uncertain at best.

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