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Former Ivory Coast Rebels Warn of Civil War

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo (R) speaks with Ivorian Defense minister Amani N'guessan (L) at presidential palace in Abidjan, 30 Nov 2009

Ivory Coast's former rebel faction in the North, the New Forces, warn that election-related violence and tensions over alleged fraud in the voter list could once again plunge the country into civil war.

Spokesman for the New Forces, Sidiki Konaté, delivered the ex-rebels' statement Monday in Bouaké.

He says that in places there is a real danger today to the peaceful coexistence of our communities. He says the New Forces, who have worked for many years to maintain this peaceful coexistence, now find that the communities are ready to attack each other. What we have, he says, are the seeds of a civil war. Each side is arming itself.

The New Forces also called for the disarmament of militia's loyal to President Gbagbo.

The presidential poll is an attempt to find a lasting political solution to nearly a decade of internal conflict in the once stable West African nation, but voter registration issues have pushed back the election several times since President Laurent Gbagbo's mandate ran out in 2005.

Mounting frustration has erupted into violent protests outside courthouses around the country since last week.

An administrative building was burned at a protest Tuesday morning in Vavoua, a city in central Ivory Coast that is still under control by former rebels. In M'Batto, also in central Ivory Coast, one person died and thirty were injured in clashes between northerners and local residents. Protests broke out Monday in Zouan Hounien near the Liberian border and in Zuenola to the west of the country.

Observers say recent political rows over the voter list show just how far the country is from resolving the question of nationality. It was at the heart of the civil war in 2002 and remains sensitive in Ivory Coast, which has a large immigrant population.

On Friday, an Ivorian tribunal confirmed evidence of "fraud" in the voter list being prepared for the upcoming poll. President Gbagbo had accused the Independent Electoral Commission of approving a voter list that contained almost a half million foreigners. Electoral commission head, Robert Mambé, disputes those allegations.

Also Friday, thousands of people stormed the courthouse in Man, near the Liberian border, accusing the magistrate of trying to strike them from the voter list. More than 150 names had been removed.

Opposition members have accused Mr. Gbagbo's camp of pressuring magistrates to remove people from the voter list and of stalling elections to remain in power.

The New Forces have denounced what they called attempts to remove northerners from the voter rolls, by questioning their nationality without proof.

President Gbagbo has not issued a reaction to Monday's statement by the New Forces, but he has sent the Ivorian Interior Minister to Ouagadougou to meet with Burkinabé president and mediator, Blaise Compaoré.

Former rebel leader and current prime minister, Guillaume Soro, continues to call for calm.

The vote is currently planned for March, but observers fear these recent disputes will once again delay the poll.