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Ivory Coast Army Reunification Faces Challenges

In Ivory Coast, President Laurent Gbagbo is trying to bring together rebel and government forces as part of a peace deal mediated earlier this year in Burkina Faso to reunite the war-torn country. But reconciliation is proving difficult. Rebels do not want to give up the positions they have had since the outbreak of civil war, and government soldiers are angry because they say they have not been paid. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

According to the peace deal signed in Ouagadougou last March, government soldiers and rebel forces, many of whom served together before war broke out in 2002, were to come together in a new unified army by early June.

But there are few signs of progress.

Government soldiers have held protests against the government. As recently as this week they demonstrated in the capital, saying they have not been paid in months.

Ivory Coast analyst Daniel Balint-Kurti, who is with the London-based Chatham House, says in the past soldier discontent has led to serious problems in the country.

"Almost every major crisis that Ivory Coast has gone through has been triggered by some sort of pay or employment dispute in the army, which then takes on political overtones," he noted. "So these kinds of disputes over promotion and who gets what grade can end up changing the history of a country."

Balint-Kurti says salary disputes fueled outbreaks of violence 1999, and then again in 2002, which led to a civil war that has left the country divided in two.

It is not just the national army that is slowing army unification. Rebel forces walked out of a re-unification planning meeting last week, saying they do not want to lose the military ranks they were given five years ago when war broke out.

Analyst Balint-Kurti says when Guillaume Soro set up his New Forces rebel army, he promoted former government soldiers from their pre-war ranks. The former rebel leader is now prime minister.

President Laurent Gbagbo held a closed-door meeting with leaders from government and rebel forces Tuesday, but he has not made any official announcement regarding progress on the talks.

In addition to army reunification, the March peace accord signed by President Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro called for disarmament of militias and a national presidential election.

Mr. Gbagbo predicts the twice-delayed election can take place by the end of the year, but opposition and election monitors say that is too soon to guarantee a fair election.