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Ivory Coast Prime Minister Launches New Peace Initiative


The mediator-appointed prime minister in divided Ivory Coast is launching a new initiative to begin identification of Ivorians and disarmament of fighters to prepare war-ending elections.

Charles Konan Banny, who was appointed in December, said what he called the train for Ivorian peace has finally left the station.

Speaking without a script on state television, he said all passengers are on board, no one missed the train, and that it may slow down but will not stop. He said elections scheduled for October 31 are the final destination.

He said only democratic elections can bring peace to Ivory Coast.

He added all Ivorians must get on board or push the train, and help those who are afraid of it.

Mr. Banny said an identification and disarmament program will begin later this week, with a pilot project in seven municipalities to start giving out papers across the divided country.

He explained the identification process will take the form of public consultations with local judges and traditional chiefs, where undocumented residents will have to prove citizenship if they want to get national identity certificates.

Mr. Banny said it is open to all residents above the age of 13. He said, unfortunately, many residents have no papers at all. He promised that foreigners would not be given nationality.

Hundreds of thousands of northerners have been denied voting rights and treated as foreigners, even though under Ivorian law many should be able to qualify for Ivorian nationality.

Mr. Banny said details of the pilot project would be made available Monday by Justice Minister Mamadou Kone, a former rebel.

Prime Minister Banny was less specific about the start of disarmament. He said preliminary listing of former fighters would also begin so they may later be re-grouped and disarmed.

A French-mediated peace deal has been repeatedly stalled since being signed in early 2003. Major stumbling blocks have been the order in which key points should be carried out.

Unlike other attempts to implement the deal, Mr. Banny has refused to promise deadlines, preferring to restore confidence among rebels, President Laurent Gbagbo, and rival politicians.

Many supporters of Mr. Gbagbo fear that if implemented, the peace deal would alter the balance of Ivorian power towards northerners, many of whom they consider foreigners.