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Ivory Coast Rebels to Miss Deadline to Disarm


Ivory Coast's rebels say they will not begin disarming by the end of the month as required under a South African mediated peace deal. The decision puts a planned October presidential election in serious doubt as many now say there is not enough time to prepare.

Last month, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reinsertion, known by its French acronym CNDDR, set a June 27 deadline for disarmament to begin. But a rebel spokesman, Amadou Kone said at a meeting with journalists in Abidjan the date is simply a proposal.

"This date is not our date. It is the CNDDR's date. And I think it will be difficult to start this process on the 27th of June," he said.

The rebels say the decision not to disarm was made in response to what they say is an increasingly tenuous security situation. They say they have no confidence in President Laurent Gbagbo's willingness to go to elections.

"Mr. Gbagbo will never win elections. The only thing he has to do is to restart the war," rebels said.

The rebels point to increasingly aggressive rhetoric from Mr. Gbagbo and members of his party, who have accused northern rebels of involvement in a series of attacks in the country's volatile west in recent weeks that have left dozens dead. Rebels deny any role, in turn accusing pro-Gbagbo militias.

Rebels say recent verbal attacks by Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters resemble those that preceded aerial bombardments on their positions last November.

In a speech broadcast on state-owned television last week, Mr. Gbagbo said that while he and his supporters waited for elections, others were blocking the disarmament process and continued to kill.

The October election timetable had already been dealt a blow last week when national assembly members from Mr. Gbagbo's political party, led by his wife Simone, walked out, saying they would not return until Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and his government had stepped down.

As part of the Pretoria peace accord, parliament is meant to revisit laws on nationality and the composition of an independent electoral commission before elections can take place.

An Member of Parliament for Ivory Coast's former longtime ruling party, known as the PDCI, Boa Thiemele says certain steps must be followed if the country's nearly three-year civil war is to be ended.

"We have to go through the electoral process, including the adoption of political measures at the national assembly and disarmament," said Boa Thiemele.

But Mr. Thiemele says, time is quickly running out, and the disarmament process, known locally as DDR, is an essential condition to holding elections.

"If, by the end of this month, we have nothing done on the DDR, we are sure that we are not going to elections," he said.

The Pretoria Accord, signed in April, is the end result of a drawn out peace process mediated in its latest phase by South African President Thabo Mbeki. Previous efforts at disarming northern rebels and southern pro-government militias have failed, largely due to mutual distrust.