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Memorials, Prayers Mark First Anniversary of Ivory Coast Rebellion - 2003-09-19

Friday is the first anniversary of the rebellion that sparked a year of crisis in Ivory Coast. The day is being marked with memorials and prayers across the country.

There had been much speculation in the commercial capital, Abidjan, that the anniversary would be marked by violent demonstrations. Some embassies here told staff to stay at home or come in late to avoid any trouble.

But there have been no reports of trouble. Heavy rains in Abidjan may have helped.

Further memorials and events are to take place through the weekend and on Sunday - which has coincidentally been named an international day for peace by the United Nations - a special ceremony is planned in the political capital, Yamoussoukro.

The year long crisis in Ivory Coast has destroyed the country's image as the most stable country in West Africa.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the crisis has had a negative impact on the humanitarian situation, hitting women and children hardest.

At a news conference in Abidjan Thursday, the World Food Program presented information showing that malnutrition and food security remain serious problems across much of the country, and that violence and prostitution linked to the crisis may have exacerbated the already high HIV infection rate.

On a more positive note, according to Gimiby Sanda, representative of the U.N. Humanitarian office, refugees are increasingly being accepted by the Ivorian population. This is a positive development after the persecution of foreigners that was seen during the rebellion last year.

"The Ivorian population is again accepting refugees. We had great fears at the end of 2002, beginning 2003, that the Ivorian population would be very reluctant or even reject refugees and no longer allow them to come in and settle among then. This fortunately is changing," he said.

In spite of the optimism and the prayers for peace, the reconciliation process in Ivory Coast has been faltering. The rebels have rejected President Laurent Gbagbo's recent nominees to the posts of defense and security ministers.