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Former Ivorian Combatants Pin Conciliation Hopes On Disarmament and Fair Elections

The long road to peace in Ivory Coast received a boost over the weekend as former militiamen turned in their weapons during a disarmament ceremony in the western town of Guiglo. Thousands of government officials, UN peacekeepers, and local onlookers watched the fighters lay down their arms in a confidence-building ceremony. It was carried out according to terms of a peace agreement signed March 4, between the militias’ patron, President Laurent Gbagbo and newly named Prime Minister and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro. Nathan Van Dusen is West Africa program manager for IFES, an international democracy development organization. He says the security issue is a small step in a complicated Ivorian reconciliation process that will hopefully lead to new elections for a unified power-sharing government.

“The security environment has a lot to do with the progress that is made on disarmament. But the key to the implementation of the accords is really movement on the political front and movement towards a credible electoral process, which has been elusive to date,” he said.

Van Dusen says the transformation will be carried out through government judicial mechanisms with international oversight, designed to provide a satisfactory forum for verifying and authenticating eligible Ivorians to participate in upcoming elections.

“The process that everyone is looking at as a sign that the accords are actually living up to expectations is what’s known as the audience foraine. This is the process whereby citizens go to a mobile court that is managed by the ministry of interior, with oversight by the United Nations, and receives citizenship papers that qualify them for participation in the upcoming elections. That process is supposed to relaunch very shortly, and that will be the tell of whether the accords are really bearing fruit,” he said.

Other confidence-building steps that need to be implemented include the eventual dismantling of a UN patrolled buffer zone separating the rebel-held north from the government-dominated south. International peacekeepers will continue to be phased out of the zone in stages. In addition, both President Gbagbo and Prime Minister Soro are displaying offers of amnesty and forgiveness to former combatants. According to Van Dusen, only time will tell if these reconciliation mechanisms will bring about a successful carrying out of the accords. But he says last weekend’s disarmament measure is an important step forward.

“I think that there are a number of benchmarks that need to be hit before we can say that these accords really represent a sea change in the political sphere in Cote D’Ivoire. But certainly any move toward disarmament should be viewed as a positive step,” he notes.

Earlier attempts to disarm Ivorian groups have failed to lure enough combatants to turn in all their weapons, and it remains to be seen if the current disbanding effort will leave arms in the hands of former militia and rebel fighters.