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Ivory Coast Militiamen Feel Excluded From Disarmament Process


Western Ivory Coast militia who fought alongside government troops in the country's 2002 civil war have been handing in their weapons for over a week now. But many combatants feel they have been excluded from the disarmament process.

By Thursday, 930 militiamen and women had handed in their arms to U.N. peacekeepers in the western town of Guiglo. Each has received around $250 and will get nearly $1,000 in the next three months.

The weapons and ammunitions are stored in a shipping container, under U.N. guard.

A national commission is in charge of the program to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate all those who took part in the civil war in 2002, but were not previously part of the national army. The European Union is paying, and the 6,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast are storing the arms until further notice.

The commission asked militia leaders to select 2,000 men and women to take part in the process.

Outside the disarmament site, hundreds of disgruntled men keep a watchful eye on proceedings. Many are brandishing weapons.

Simon Jule is one such militiaman, who says he was not put on the list. He says, they still have arms, but, he says, they are still not being recognized. They want to disarm, he says, because they are tired of fighting.

The reason Jule says many have missed out on the cash bonus, medical support and help in finding work, which are all part of the process, is that the militia leaders put non-combatants on the list.

Jule says, they put people in, who, he says, do not have any arms and are not really combatants. He says, they have taken their parents and their little brothers, he says, and they have signed them up for disarmament.

Glohefi Maho the head of all militias in the west, and he says he has only put real fighters on the list. He says, if you look at the list of who is going to be disarmed, you will not, he says, see a single member of his family. He asks, do you understand. He says, there is one member of his family who is a combatant, he says, but everyone in the region knows him. He says, whoever said he put his family members on the list is talking rubbish, he says.

But Maho acknowledges there are still legitimate militia fighters who are missing out on the process, because there was no room for them in the 2,000 allocated slots. He says, the problem is that there is only a certain number of combatants they can put on the list. That, he says, is the problem. He adds, there are also several fighters who went abroad and, he says, are now returning after the selection was made. But, he says, everyone on the list is a real fighter.

Jean-Luc Stalon is the U.N.'s top disarmament official in Ivory Coast. He says the leaders have put the right people on the list.

"Not every combatant comes with his weapon on his own. They come as a group, belonging to a specific militia group. The leaders of those groups have established and submitted lists to the program," he said. "The advantage of having this system is that we can control their movements better and can put more pressure on their leaders."

Though Stalon does not think there are more than 2,000 militiamen and women in the Guiglo region, he does want them to bring more arms to hand in. So far, he says, only one in nine has handed in a weapon.

Stalon also accepts that the program will not rid the country of all weapons.

"We will never be able to collect all the weapons that are illicitly circulating in the country," he said. "However, we hope that with this program we will be able to take a big part of the weapons."

While the militias are disarming, rebel and government soldiers who were not a part of the armed forces before the civil war wait in their barracks until they too will hand in their weapons.

Rebels took up arms against President Laurent Gbagbo in September 2002, saying they were defending the political and civil rights of northerners. They say most northerners with Muslim names were being treated as foreigners and excluded from taking part in elections.

A nationwide identification scheme, which is to issue identity documents to all those without them is to rectify this. A U.N.-backed peace plan envisages presidential elections by the end of October, though many senior diplomats and U.N. officials now doubt this date can be met.