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Ivory Coast Fighters Hopeful for Peace

Rebels, the army, militias, and supporters of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo are all hopeful a new peace deal struck in South Africa will finally end two-and-half years of on again, off again war.

The signing of a peace agreement in Pretoria was greeted with cautious optimism throughout divided Ivory Coast.

Army spokesman Jules Yao-Yao says it is about time that peace starts taking root.

At a press conference to dismiss renewed coup rumors, he said due to economic problems, if the war continues any longer, society will "implode or explode."

The accord calls on northern-based rebels, known as the Forces Nouvelles, as well as pro-Gbagbo militias to start disarming this month.

A leader of the main militia group called GPP, Jeff Agba, says he will embrace disarmament.

"I think that GPP is just a spirit for resistance, for defense, but we do not need to have GPP or Forces Nouvelles so we just have one country, one army for Ivory Coast and we all go together," he said.

Militias and a youth group called the Young Patriots reacted to the first peace deal signed in France in early 2003 by starting a series of looting rampages, which culminated in a violent week in November 2004, forcing thousands of foreigners to flee.

The leader of the Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude, told VOA he will wait for Mr. Gbagbo's return to Ivory Coast before deciding what to do.

But, militia leader Agba says he believes the way this accord was reached in Pretoria, in just four days, was much better than the public process that led to the first deal, known as Marcoussis.

"These discussions have been very very closed to journalists and things like that," he said. "Nobody could say something about it, so it is a very great decision. I think it is better than Marcoussis because in Marcoussis they did not take anything really seriously and Marcoussis did not take our problems out you know."

The deal calls for a reformed electoral commission to prepare October elections and a revision of already changed nationality laws to give more northern Ivorians, now treated as foreigners, the right to vote.

South African mediator Thabo Mbeki will meet with United Nations and other African leaders to decide on the controversial question of eligibility requirements for the presidency.

Popular northern opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, who signed the accord, said whether he would run was now in Mr. Mbeki's hands. He has been barred from previous elections. Mr. Gbagbo said it was crucial that elections be held.

A member of his party and the current reconciliation minister, Dano Dje Dje, told VOA that it is crucial no one reads this new accord as a victory for one side or the other. He said today is a victory for all of Ivory Coast.

A rebel leader at their headquarters in Bouake, Hegel Ouattara, says rebels will disarm if that is what rebel leader Guillaume Soro signed.

He says Mr. Soro is not like Mr. Gbagbo, who signs a peace deal, and then breaks his promise. Rebels had accused him of stalling repeated peace deals and preparing for all-out war.

Mr. Gbagbo says rebels need to disarm immediately and that he has done all he can to push the peace process forward.

Members of the opposition say the actual start of disarmament and having a decision on who can be a candidate in the October election could save Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer, from descending into ethnic warfare.