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Ivory Coast Identification, Disarmament Slowly Commence


In war-divided Ivory Coast disarmament and personal identification, the two obstacles to elections, saw partial success in a pilot program this week. There is little sign of the start of full-scale disarmament.

Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny launched a pilot identification program from Meagui, in the southwest of Ivory Coast.

The program involves having undocumented residents appear before government magistrates and local officials.

Mr. Banny says these public hearings are not just the starting point for the identification process, but for all the processes being conducted. Referring to disarmament, he said that it is important for it to run in parallel.

The processes he refers to are to bring the opposing sides together, disarm the rebel New Forces and southern militias, and identify the millions of Ivorians without official documents. All this is to be done before elections scheduled for October, after which President Laurent Gbagbo's term is to expire.

Seven sites were selected where people without documents may apply for a replacement birth certificate, which they could use to obtain an identity card. One of the more successful sites was Botro, averaging more than 100 hearings a day.

Doumbia Issa was pleased to be recognized by the state for the first time in his life. He told VOA having papers would mean the police would no longer bother him.

He said that he will not have any problems anymore, when he travels. He said, now when the police ask him where his papers are he can just get them out and present them. Now, he added, they will just let him pass.

Doumbia's uncle said he may now be able to get a job as he will be able to pass the frequent road blocks without having to pay bribes.

Doumbia, 17, will be too young to vote in October, but he said voting will be an important right for him when he comes of age.

He said, it is important to vote to affirm your liberty. He said it is an important task, which you must do properly. In Botro, elders from its 13 villages attended the hearings to confirm that applicants really were born in the area. Applicants may only register where they were born.

One elder, Assie Kouadio, said they know exactly who is and who is not from their village.

He said in Torako, the village where he is from, he knows everyone and the chief knows everyone. Nobody, he said, can come and tell them they are from that village or that they are Ivorian if they are not.

While this verification system may be effective in smaller towns, it may not work so well in cities like Abidjan, where there is no way of knowing who was born there and where they came from.

A further issue raised by several would-be applicants is that they are hundreds of kilometers from their places of birth and cannot return, because they are too poor.

U.N. observers, who did not wish to be named, said the identification process would be much too slow to complete the operation by October's planned elections.

Meanwhile, disarmament did not begin at the same time and there was confusion about when the rebel New Forces would start that process.

A leading member of the New Forces political front, Sidiki Konaté had announced the first step of disarmament in Botro for Monday. When VOA visited the declared site there was no sign of any activity.

On Tuesday, just more than 100 rebel soldiers came to the site. The disarmament is also to involve new army recruits.

Prime Minister Banny will review the pilot programs and has indicated that he hopes to extend them to all of Ivory Coast.

The New Forces took control of the northern half of Ivory Coast in 2002, demanding more rights for northerners, who they say are being treated as second-class citizens. Many Ivorians have never had a birth certificate or lost their papers when they fled fighting.

Mr. Gbagbo's supporters say the rebels need to disarm before identification can take place.