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Ivory Coast Sets New Disarmament Deadlines, Close to Election

People stand around a local news paper stand with news papers giving comment on the current political situation in Abidjan
The Ivory Coast military and New Forces rebels have agreed on a new timetable for disarmament, now scheduled to conclude soon before elections October 30. Previous disarmament deals have failed, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern at continued human-rights abuses in the still divided country.

Members of Ivory Coast's national army and New Forces rebels agreed on a disarmament timetable after three days of talks, to pave the way for elections to be held at the end of October.

Spokespeople from both sides said the preparations for disarmament will begin at the end of July and disarmament and demobilization is scheduled to finish in early October.

New Forces rebels spokeman Cisse Cindou says the aim is to leave at least two weeks for electoral campaigning.

But Mr. Cindou said full disarmament will only take place, if changes to legislation about nationality and who can vote are resolved.

"This is a commitment from every side, so this is a two point commitment," he said. "[A] commitment from two forces to disarm, commitment for the president to take all the legal action that is necessary for the election, and commitment for the government of reconciliation to do their job."

According to the latest peace deal, those changes need to be adopted before July 15.

A spokesman for the armed forces, Major Rene Sako, says he trusts that, this time, the timetable will work, because there are definite dates, signed by the two chiefs of staff.

The minister of reconciliation and member of the ruling FPI party, Dano Djedje, welcomed the agreement. He said he hoped the president could campaign in the north.

Mr. Djedje says, currently, the FPI does not have the right to campaign in the north because it is under rebel control.

Ivory Coast has been divided into a government-controlled south and rebel-held north since civil war broke out nearly three years ago. Previous peace accords and plans for disarmament have failed to bring peace to the world's top cocoa producer, and widespread human-rights abuses continue throughout the country.

During a visit to Ivory Coast, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, urged the government in the south and the New Forces in the north to take responsibility, and prevent and punish human-rights abuses.

"In parallel to a peace process and a political process, which may seem to be moving in the right direction, there is a very serious deterioration of the human-rights situation, and, in particular, of the right to life," she said.

Ms. Arbour visited the west of Ivory Coast where, recently, dozens of civilians were killed in government-held territory. President Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters say attackers were fighters from the north, while some residents, rebels, and an apparent U.N. memo leaked to the media blame Liberian mercenaries.