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Ivory Coast UN Head has Hope for Future, but Little Patience

Pierre Schori (File photo - Feb. 18, 2002)
A new timetable for disarmament of rebels, militias and armed forces in Ivory Coast has brought the country one step closer to elections planned for later this year. But with much that can still go wrong and derail the polls, the head of the United Nations mission in the war-divided country says there is no longer time to tolerate stalling.

The U.N. special representative in Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori, calls the recently agreed to timeframe for disarmament the first test of the latest phase of a South African mediated peace process.

After an initial peace deal was not implemented, the parties to the conflict were brought back to South Africa late last month. The result was a renewed commitment to prepare the way for elections that remain scheduled for October 30.

"Its all tied together. The demobilization of the militias will start now," he said. "Its also linked to the laws before the 15th of July. That will be the second test case. There, the president has promised that he would act on behalf of the parliament."

But a new compressed timetable and a lengthy list of preconditions for the holding of elections, Mr. Schori says, means there is now little margin of error.

"This is not Disneyland. This is the Ivory Coast, [which] has been through a war, and has been partitioned, and with a lot of problems. Of course things can go wrong," said Mr. Schori.

New clauses in the latest peace agreement cleared the way for imposing sanctions on anyone found to be blocking the peace process. Mr. Schori says the redoubled threat of financial and travel sanctions is already pushing forward a negotiation process that, he says, must not be allowed to stagnate again.

"I think that it is absolutely necessary that we keep it not only alive, but very alive," he said. "And I think sanctions was the fifth participant in Yamoussoukro."

Still, Mr. Schori says, he does not think the time to impose sanctions has yet arrived.

"If you ask me, Should we apply sanctions today on something? I would say, not yet. But we have a few cases. Its not only non-implementation. We have also arms embargo. We have hate media. In order to give more clout also to the whole process, we will study very carefully all aspects of sanctions, in all fields where its applicable," he explained.

In line with the latest peace deal, laws on nationality and the composition of an independent electoral commission must be changed by Friday. Disarmament of militias and rebels, as well as the demobilization of government soldiers recruited since the civil war began nearly three years ago are to begin by the end of the month.

The war in what used to be the region's economic engine has disrupted the lives of millions in Ivory Coast, as well as landlocked countries to the north.