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Ivory Coast Politicians Welcome Disarmament Agreement


Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, during the peace talks in Pretoria
The two sides in Ivory Coast's conflict have cautiously welcomed the revival of the deadlocked peace process that was negotiated in South Africa. The understanding reached Wednesday, is different from previous ones because this one calls for sanctions to be imposed on any side that does not implement the peace deal.

The major political parties in Ivory Coast voiced support Thursday for the deal reached in Pretoria, saying they hope it will restore momentum to the faltering peace process.

For the first time, a definite date has been set to disarm pro-government militias and the African Union has warned of sanctions against all parties that fail to implement the peace accord.

Ivory Coast has been in turmoil for years, with rebels in control of the northern half of the country, and forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo in control of the southern half.

A spokesman for the New Forces rebels, Sidiki Konate, expressed support for the Pretoria accord, but reiterated that the New Forces would not give up their arms until the pro-government militias have been disarmed first.

"We have to do something, we cannot say the militia cannot be disarmed," he said. "Somebody created them and this person was Mr. Gbagbo Laurent. If the militia refuse to disarm, I think the first sanctions should be against Mr. Gbagbo himself because he created them."

But Abdou Dramane Saghare, vice president of the ruling FPI party, denies the government has financed any militias. He says the only militias are those of the New Forces rebels.

Mr. Saghare says the people described as militias are simply youths who have banded together to defend the republic of Ivory Coast. He says these young people understand the commitment of Pretoria and will begin to disarm.

All major parties to the peace accord have said that, without disarmament, elections scheduled for the end of October cannot take place in the divided country.

An opposition, PDCI official, Edjemp Ejanpa Tiemele, said he hoped all parties would have the good will needed for disarmament to take place on time.

"We hope we will be in a position to hold elections," he said. "The remaining time is short, but I think we have to use all our good will, everything we can do to respect the time of the 30 October."

But even if disarmament takes place, a lot remains to be done in the four months before the election. A census has to be taken and electoral lists have to be verified.

All major parties to the conflict signed a peace agreement in April that was meant to put an end to hostilities, but the agreement was never implemented because of political squabbles and the failure of militia groups and rebels to disarm.

Several previous agreements have failed to bring peace to Ivory Coast. While this latest accord is being welcomed, it is being welcomed cautiously.

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