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Ivory Coast: Soro Calls for Faster Implementation of Peace Deal - 2003-06-26

The Ivorian rebel leader turned government minister, Guillaume Soro, is calling for a faster implementation of a peace deal to reunite the west African nation. Ivory Coast has been divided between the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south since last September. The peace deal, which was signed in France in January, is being implemented militarily, but not politically.

Mr. Soro returned this week from Togo, where he met with Africa's longest-ruling leader, Gnassingbe Eyadema. The Ivorian minister called on Mr. Eyadema to use his regional influence to help accelerate the Ivorian peace process.

Six months after the peace deal was signed, a cease-fire has finally taken full effect across Ivory Coast, including in the west, where both the Ivorian government and rebels have used Liberian mercenaries.

A national unity government is also slowly being established, but most government power remains in the hands of President Laurent Gbagbo. He has said repeatedly he is purchasing weapons to prevent another insurgency.

Militias who support Mr. Gbagbo train daily in the streets of Abidjan, blocking traffic as they chant that they are liberators.

Mr. Soro says he fears for his security when he goes to Abidjan. He also finds very worrisome reports about militias who have published a hit list that include his name.

Mr. Soro says the rest of Ivory Coast is now safer than Abidjan, where politically the peace process is at a deadlock.

Lawmakers close to Mr. Gbagbo are demanding that rebels disarm immediately. The rebels say they will disarm only when the entire peace accord reached in France is put in place. The accord calls for, among other points, a consensus defense minister, amnesty for rebels, and looser nationality requirements for Ivorians.

Rebels say they are fighting for northerners and immigrants who often feel like second-class citizens.

The head of an association of journalists in Abidjan, Sandres Glazai, says it will be a long time before Mr. Soro has any influence on what takes place in the south.

Mr. Glazai says Mr. Soro is still in the armed rebel camp, while he is on the side of democracy and liberty.

As the new communications minister, Mr. Soro says he is preparing his own proposal to reform the Ivorian press, with an emphasis on improving ethics.

He says Ivorian journalists fill their reports with inaccuracies because they were not properly trained. He also says inflammatory reports are damaging to the peace process and journalists share a responsibility with dissident politicians in keeping Ivory Coast in a semi-state of war.

Many observers believe Ivory Coast will remain in this precarious state until at least the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2005.