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COTE D'IVOIRE: New political climate favours pivotal identification process

DAKAR, 31 May 2007 (IRIN) - Logistical challenges might be all that stand in the way of issuing identity papers for millions of undocumented Ivorians - a process that lies at the heart of Cote d'Ivoire's conflict, and one that political hostility and intransigence have rendered impossible up to now.

"The commitment of all concerned to pull out of this crisis is what makes us optimistic that the process can work this time," Ahmedou El Becaye Seck, director of the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire's (ONUCI) electoral assistance division, told IRIN.

Cote d'Ivoire's transitional government - formed as part of a new peace accord signed in March - is preparing to launch the identification process in the coming weeks. The process is essential to carrying out elections, which are expected by early 2008.

Northerners - descendants of immigrants from neighbouring countries - have complained for years that they face severe discrimination by Ivorian authorities and many have not been able to obtain proper citizenship papers. This call was central to the rebels' cause when their uprising split the country in two in 2002.

"It will be a major breakthrough if [this process] even gets started," said Daniel Balint-Kurti, West Africa analyst with the London-based think-tank Chatham House.

"There has been a great deal of dispute between rebels and the president's side over how identification should be conducted. Relaunching the process without opposition from either party would be a real step forward."

The process

The peace accord signed by President Laurent Gbagbo and the former head of the New Forces rebel movement in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou in March, promised to "make it easier" for people to prove their Ivorian citizenship by laying out a process to accelerate the issuing of national identity cards.

A series of 'mobile tribunals' will travel around the country to furnish those who do not have birth certificates with special documents, the accord stated.

Alain Lobognon, communications director in the office of former rebel leader and now Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, said government officials met recently to finalise a list of 60 teams that will run the mobile tribunals.

He said the Prime Minister's office is still ironing out logistics for such a huge undertaking, which is expected to cost about $37 million. As of 2 May, the shortfall stood at $33 million, although major foreign donors are expected to provide logistical and financial help.

Chance of success

Observers say the main difference from previous failed efforts to tackle identity is the readiness on the part of both sides to move towards peace, and an urgency coming from citizens weary of the 'no war, no peace' that has held since the brief civil war in late 2002.

Since Cote d'Ivoire was split two in after a rebellion in 2002, Gbagbo supporters have repeatedly accused the West of backing the opposition.

But Gbagbo hardliners appear to be more inclined to be on board with the Ouagadougou agreement because it stemmed from Gbagbo's initiative to hold face-to-face talks with the former rebels.

Marcellin Zahoui, a member of the pro-Gbagbo 'Jeune Patriots' - the group that led violent protests when the identification process was to start in July 2006 - said there would not be a repeat of last year's protests against the identification process.

"We have already heard from our leaders and the order is to let the 'mobile tribunals' process be carried out. We are in total agreement."

Still, experts say, politically-driven obstacles cannot be ruled out.

"Up to now, everything has been just ceremony," said Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group. "The decisive steps will start in June and we'll see right away if the accord is as solid as it needs to be."

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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