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Ivory Coast Rebels Say October Election Impossible

A spokesman for Ivory Coast's northern rebels has said October presidential elections in the war-divided country are no longer possible. Southern militias have already missed two disarmament deadlines this year and both rebels and supporters of the president have come out against a new resident identification scheme, leading many to expect election delays.

Speaking from Bouake, the de facto capital of Ivory Coast's rebel New Forces, spokesman Cisse Sindou said a lack of progress towards implementing key facets of a long-delayed peace deal has now made the October election date unworkable.

"Technically, it's impossible," said Sindou. "I don't think it is possible to identify everybody, to give them ID cards and voter cards, and test the whole organization."

This comes just a day after a controversial scheme to identify millions of undocumented Ivorians and foreign residents failed to open in the commercial capital Abidjan.

Identification has been the key demand of the rebels in a long series of never implemented peace deals dating back to early 2003.

However, Ivory Coast's transitional government recently decided to register Ivorians and foreigners on separate days during the identification program, and Sindou says the process has been altered without the consent or input of the New Forces.

"That's what is very frustrating, because we haven't been even advised," he said. "We haven't been given the information that they are going to be doing it in two phases."

Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo, who the rebels attempted to overthrow at the beginning of the war in 2002, are also opposed to the process, saying it could be used to rig elections.

Eric Anet is an official from President Gbagbo's political party, known by its French acronym FPI.

"We will oppose through all means the identification project," he said. "We cannot condone this masquerade. We do not want disastrous elections."

Officials from the justice ministry, in charge of deploying 50 mobile courts for identification across the country by July 15, say the process has indeed begun but is still in the preparation phase.

They say identification should begin in Abidjan beginning Saturday.

Presidential elections, viewed by many as the key to ending the Ivorian crisis, were originally scheduled for October 2005. But rebels and southern militias loyal to the president refused to disarm, forcing a 12-month delay to polls.