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Rebel Leader Takes Over as Ivory Coast's New Prime Minister


In Ivory Coast, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro is finalizing who will be part of his new power-sharing government with President Laurent Gbagbo. Mr. Soro, who still controls rebel forces in the North, and President Gbagbo were once bitter enemies. They were brought together under a peace deal brokered in Ouagadougou last month. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Guillaume Soro was sworn in Wednesday and is now in the process of choosing more than 30 members to serve in his new government . They will come from rebel forces, unarmed opposition parties and Mr. Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front.

Mr. Soro was appointed prime minister last week by President Gbagbo. The move was part of the latest plan to reunite the divided West African nation.

But the director of Africa programs for the International Crisis Group, Francois Grignon, says Mr. Soro will have to become accustomed to facing political opposition.

"He is now put in a situation where he is one politico among others," he said. "There is competition, obviously, with the unarmed opposition, with the key other Ivorian leaders such as [Alassane] Ouattara and [Henri] Konan Bedie from the other parties."

Under the agreement reached last month in Ouagadougou, election will be organized later this year. Cisse Sindou, deputy chief of Soro's rebel group, the New Forces, says other opposition parties should not feel threatened.

"We always told them that we are the only ones that would bring fair elections because we are not candidates," he said.

"We will not let [President] Gbagbo do anything unfairly to them because we are in the same party. We are the referee and have the intention to stay a good referee so the game will be fair," he added.

Analyst Grignon says Soro will also face, what he calls, a cunning political rival in President Gbagbo.

"President Gbagbo is going to play his cards as usual, which is to divide and rule," he said. "Which is to undermine whatever support Soro may have with other members of the opposition in order to have his will. "

Deputy rebel chief Sindou dismisses this potential threat to Soro's power.

"Everybody thinks [President] Gbagbo is [the] strategic one. But do not underestimate Forces Nouvelles [New Forces rebels] also. We have been ruling 60 percent of the country [for] five years. We have gained some confidence and some experience. And we know [Mr.] Gbagbo better than anyone else. We know him for more than 20 years," he said.

Ivory Coast has been divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since late 2002. U.N. and French peacekeeping forces patrol a buffer zone that separates the two sides. Last month's peace deal calls for reunification of the country and free and fair elections. Polls have been delayed twice since 2005.

One of the key rebel demands has been that many Ivorian northerners, now treated as second class citizens, get the right to vote.