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Ivory Coast Government Disagrees With UN Report

Officials from both sides of the coalition government of President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel-leader turned Prime Minister Guillaume Soro in Ivory Coast have said they strongly disagree with a recent U.N. report that says the rival parties are failing to advance peace and reconciliation. Phillip Wellman reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is deeply concerned by the slow progress being made towards reconciliation in divided Ivory Coast.

In March, Mr. Soro became prime minister after signing a peace accord with Mr. Gbagbo that set a timeline for goals to be accomplished before the country's next presidential election. The election, originally scheduled for October 2005, was postponed twice through U.N. resolutions and is the overall aim of the peace accord.

The United Nations says that because targets such as army reintegration and identifying undocumented Ivorians continue to be missed, efforts at reconciliation could be undermined. It says the failure to meet targets is largely because Mr. Gbagbo's party and Mr. Soro's New Forces rebels disagree on the specifics of the issues.

But a spokesman for Mr. Soro's New Forces, Sidiki Konate, says the two sides of the coalition government are getting along fine.

"There is no problem between Force Nouvelle and President Laurent Gbagbo. Why should there be? They are working in the same government," said Konate. "We have to recognize that a lot of things have been done since Guillaume Soro was appointed Prime Minister in Ivory Coast. So I am not really sharing the viewpoint of the U.N."

The U.N. report says the identification plan that began on September 25 was later suspended due to a lack of adequate preparation by officials involved. Government officials have also been hesitant to go into rebel territory without more assurances of security.

Rebels took up arms in late 2002 saying they were fighting for undocumented Ivorians who were treated as foreigners and persecuted by security forces. This led to civil war and is why the country remains divided.

New Forces spokesman Konate says the current identification plan ran into a few complications at the beginning, but was never fully stopped and should start significantly progressing within a week.

Analyst Gilles Yabi, of Brussels-based research organization International Crisis Group, says he believes that everyone in the coalition government wants peace for Ivory Coast, but says because of their current positions they are in no rush for elections.

"People from both sides, from Gbagbo's side and Soro's side, are in the government and have absolutely no personal interest in moving very quickly," said Yabi. "That means that while they probably agree on what to do and have no grave problems, at the same time, they have no sense of urgency because personally they hold positions and they have absolutely no threats to their personal interests both financially or politically."

Yabi says that despite what critics may say, it is still very important for the United Nations to keep a check on the Ivorian government until the next presidential election.

"That is why it is important for the international community to remain involved and to send some signals that it is not just because Gbagbo and Soro signed an agreement that they designed themselves that means that they should have a free hand to conduct the peace process as they like," added Yabi.

An independent electoral commission recently said that the presidential election could take place by October 2008.