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Analysts Say Attack on Ivory Coast Prime Minister Could Threaten Reunification

An Ivory Coast government minister has announced several arrests in connection with a rocket attack on an airplane carrying Prime Minister Guillaume Soro on Friday. Mr. Soro, the former rebel leader, was unharmed in the attack which left as many as four dead according to journalists who were on the plane. Kari Barber reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar that analysts say the incident could disrupt reconciliation in the divided nation.

A member of the Mr. Soro's Cabinet says police and rebels have begun investigations into what is being called an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Soro as his plane landed Friday at the rebel stronghold city of Bouake.

A West Africa-based analyst with International Crisis Group, Gilles Yabi, says finding out who was behind the attack is crucial in order to know what effect it will have on the peace process.

"The worst has been avoided. If the assassination attempt had succeeded, this would have had [devastating] consequences on the peace process," said Yabi. "Now the impact will depend ultimately on the identification of the group which is behind the attack."

Yabi says one way to minimize the negative impact would be for the government and the rebels to make information about the investigations open to the public. He says that could bolster confidence in the new power-sharing government of President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Soro.

"For one time in the history of this conflict, we can have the truth about this kind of attack," said Yabi. "We have seen a lot of violent attacks in the course of this conflict, but we do not get the full truth about what happened and who was behind the attacks."

Yabi says the attackers could be disaffected rebels from Mr. Soro's northern-based camp who are unhappy with his participation in the government of former enemy President Gbagbo. If so, the attack could have little effect on national reconciliation, aside from causing delay in disarmament and the identification process, a key issue that has divided the country since 2002. Many northerners have felt they are being denied their citizenship papers.

But Yabi says if the assailants are aligned with a pro-government militia, the peace process could be at serious risk.

Daniel Balint Kurti, with the London-based think tank Chatham House, says rebel groups that have not joined the power sharing government must not be overlooked.

"Within the rebel camp you do have a known dissident movement composed of rebels who have been forced into exile," said Kurti. "They remain a kind of joker in the pack, and they could threaten to destabilize the north at any point."

President Gbagbo and Mr. Soro signed a peace deal in March in Ouagadougou aimed at reuniting the country by creating a power-sharing government whose key tasks included creating a new national identification system and disarming militias.