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After Four Years of Mediation, Ivory Coast Peace Elusive


Nearly four years into international mediation aimed at reuniting war-divided Ivory Coast, the U.N. Security Council is preparing to pass a new resolution creating another transitional period. Despite the efforts of the international community, political divisions run deep and an end to the conflict seems a long way off.

The fighting in Ivory Coast erupted between rebels and government forces in September 2002.

By January of the following year, the warring factions in the country, long viewed as a bastion of stability in the troubled West African region, had signed a peace deal.

French and West African peacekeepers were sent to man a ceasefire line dividing the country in half. A U.N. peacekeeping mission was established. And, aside from a few days of fighting in November 2004, there has been almost no direct fighting between rebels in the north and government forces in the south.

While the international community has been largely successful in stopping the war and avoiding the kind of massive bloodshed witnessed in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, reuniting the country has proven more difficult.

After presidential elections scheduled for this month fell through for the second year in a row, the United Nations drafted a new resolution on Ivory Coast.

Security Council members were prepring to vote on it Wednesday.

A researcher with the International Crisis Group, Gilles Yabi, says much of Ivory Coast's current impasse is due the fact that the various peace deals and U.N. resolutions have been consistently vague.

He said, "It is clear that all the lack of clarity in U.N. Security Council resolutions or in other decisions plays into the hands of the conflicting parties."

For nearly four years, he says, the various rival factions have had room to maneuver; avoiding implementing aspects of the peace process they deem not to be in their interest.

The appointment of Charles Konan Banny as the prime minister of a new transitional government following a Security Council resolution passed a year ago had been meant to put an end to that.

The reinforced powers granted him under his new U.N.-backed mandate were meant to allow him the tools necessary to complete his mission and organize polls. What resulted was a year-long showdown over the Ivorian constitution.

Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo rioted in January over a recommendation by international mediators that the expired mandate of the country's parliament, dominated by the presidents allies, should not be renewed.

They again used violent protests to block a program aimed at identifying millions of undocumented Ivorian citizens and foreign nationals, claiming the process was unconstitutional.

The identification scheme, created by the prime minister, had been intended as a first step towards forming new voter rolls. And its blockage, international mediators said, was a main reason elections failed to take place.

The new U.N. resolution would extend President Gbagbo's mandate another 12 months. The extension will be his second, and U.N. Secretary-General Koffi Annan has already said it will be his last.

"The African leaders, they are concerned, especially the neighbors of Cote d'Ivoire. So they are serious, and they will demand discipline this time," said Pierre Schori, who is Mr. Annan's special representative in Ivory Coast.

But as the Security Council vote approaches, political positions in Ivory Coast have hardened.

President Gbagbo and his supporters have warned against a U.N. decision that might undermine the country's constitution.

Meanwhile, the New Forces rebels and major political opposition parties are calling for the constitution to be suspended entirely. They have refused to budge from their position that a second extension of Mr. Gbagbo's mandate should not be an option, and that the prime minister should take over all power November 1st.

Kandia Camera is deputy secretary-general of the RDR, one of the two main opposition parties.

"You see. That is the problem. In this country's crisis, we should only have one leader, not two leaders," he said. "Above all, if the two leaders cannot work together because they do not have the same aim."

The mounting rhetoric on all sides has many people worried that violence is imminent, no matter what the United Nations decides.

The ICG's Yabi says that kind of underlying tension should serve as a reminder to the international community that, despite an end to open fighting, Ivory Coast's conflict is far from over.

"It is clear that society in Ivory Coast is still polarized along political and ethnic lines, and that small events can provoke a massive return to violence in the country," he said. "So it is really time now to be very strict and very strong in the resolution of the crisis."