The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast has issued a statement saying it is not responsible for the long-delayed program to disarm rebel groups. The statement followed a demonstration at the U.N. offices Friday calling for the disarmament process to begin.

U.N. spokesman Jean-Victor N'Kolo said the United Nations is in Ivory Coast to support the government with the disarmament of the rebels who control the northern half of the country, not to do the job itself. "The disarmament and demobilization process is fully the responsibility of the Government of National Reconciliation. The United Nations operation in Cote d'Ivoire is only here to support that process, among others. So when some say or claim that we should disarm and demobilize people by the end of the month or that kind of time frame, it is not our responsibility. Also there is no specific provision for disarmament by force," he said.

On Friday, women supporters of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo demonstrated outside U.N. headquarters in Abidjan to demand that the disarmament campaign begin by May 31 at the latest.

One of the leaders of the demonstration, Genevieve Bro Gregbe, said if the United Nations does not start disarmament and demobilization by the end of the month, the president's supports will start the process themselves.

The U.N. Spokesman, Mr. N'Kolo, says the peacekeeping force is not yet ready to help the government with the disarmament because much of its soldiers have not yet arrived in Ivory Coast. He says the campaign can not be conducted effectively without the assistance of the more than 6,000 peacekeepers arriving from Bangladesh, Pakistan, France and several African nations.

The National Reconciliation Government, headed by President Gbagbo, was established with the signing of the peace accord that ended the civil war in Ivory Coast a year and a half ago. But it has suffered from infighting and mistrust since then, and last week President Gbagbo announced he was removing three of the ministers representing the rebels and opposition parties.

The country remains divided between the government-controlled south and the rebel-controlled north and west.