UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Slim pickings for Mbeki to report at AU summit
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
ABIDJAN, 8 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - South African President Thabo Mbeki will brief the African Union (AU) on Monday on Cote d'Ivoire's attempts to restore peace, but there is little progress to report, with the stalemate between the President Laurent Gbagbo and the rebels as strong as ever.
Rebel ministers have still not returned to the government of national reconciliation. Gbagbo is still demanding a referendum be held on a key constitutional change. The rebels are refusing to disarm until their demands for further guarantees have been met.
So the prospect of elections being held on schedule in a united country in October looks remote.
"We are very pessimistic. We're not convinced that Mbeki's efforts will be effective," said one Abidjan diplomat. "We're essentially back to where we were a year ago - a game where no side will give anything to the other and everyone lies to each other."
Mbeki, drafted in by the AU to spearhead peace efforts after an 18-month ceasefire fell apart in November, managed to wrangle promises out of both sides on 6 December to a revive faltering two-year-old peace accord.
That prompted the UN Security Council to hold off imposing individual sanctions on Cote d'Ivoire's key players so that the African mediation had time to bear fruit.
The peace process in Cote d'Ivoire, split into a rebel-held north and a government-run south since September 2002, has not gathered momentum since Mbeki announced that he had struck a deal more than a month ago.
The international community, which has sent 6,000 UN peacekeepers and 5,000 French troops under separate command to prevent further conflict in Cote d'Ivoire, must therefore decide what to do next.
A summit meeting of the AU's 15-member Peace and Security Council in the Gabonese capital Libreville will hear a report from Mbeki on Monday.
The UN Security Council will decide whether or not to slap further sanctions on Cote d'Ivoire soon afterwards.
Leaks to the press have suggested that up to 200 government and rebel members could be banned from travelling abroad, have their assets seized or be arraigned for trial by an international court for war crimes if the United Nations decides to take tougher action.
Reforms through parliament
The one concrete piece of progress since Mbeki struck a deal with the Ivorian factions is that the National Assembly has voted through the remaining political reforms promised by the January 2003 Linas-Marcoussis peace agreement, including a reform of article 35 of the constitution.
The reform of article 35 allows individuals with only one Ivorian parent to run for the presidency. This means that Alassane Ouattara, a previously-banned opposition leader backed by the rebels, could run against Gbagbo next time around.
Ouattara, a former prime minister and senior official of the International Monetary Fund, was banned from challenging Gbagbo in the 2000 presidential election on the disputed grounds that his father was born in Burkina Faso.
However, some commentators say that parliamentary approval of the constitutional amendment was cosmetic, because Gbagbo is still demanding that the change to article 35 be rubber-stamped by a referendum. That would be virtually impossible to hold until the rebels disarm and the country is reunited.
On most of the other issues outlined in Mbeki's schedule for peace, Cote d'Ivoire's warring sides get a poor report card.
Gbagbo has kept his man at the head of state television instead of reinstating the previous rebel-backed incumbent. His ousting was branded a "coup" by Guillaume Soro, the rebel leader, who is supposed to be Communications Minister, in charge of the state media.
Meanwhile, Soro and six other rebel ministers have continued to boycott cabinet meetings, despite promises they would start attending them within two weeks of the Mbeki agreement.
They failed to show for the first cabinet meeting of 2005 on Thursday, prompting Prime Minister Seydou Diarra to fly to the rebel stronghold of Bouake that same day to try to persuade them to return to work.
Government sources said Diarra had touted the possibility of a one-off cabinet get-together in Yamoussoukro to alleviate rebel concerns that their security cannot be guaranteed in Abidjan.
Given that the cabinet is not meeting yet, the timetable for trickier issues like disarmament, looks increasingly unrealistic.
Under the Mbeki plan, the disarmament and demobilisation of rebel forces in the north and pro-government militia groups in the south is supposed to be completed by the beginning of April. UN officials say the cantonment sites are ready, but there is little indication that the rebels are.
All this provides much material for the AU to chew over in the absence of Gbagbo. Gabonese officials said on Saturday the Ivorian president had declined an invitation to attend the Libreville summit.
The last time AU leaders met to discuss Cote d'Ivoire, following November's violent flare-up, they came down hard and urged the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country without delay.
Given the slow progress since then, there has been speculation that the Libreville summit may call for the United Nations to slap travel bans and asset freezes on those individuals seen as obstacles to peace.
Whatever the outcome, Mbeki is set to stop in Cote d'Ivoire on his way home. It will be his third visit to the country in as many months.
Officials at the South African president's office in Pretoria said Mbeki was expected to fly into Cote d'Ivoire's official capital Yamoussoukro, 200 km northwest of the port city of Abidjan, on Tuesday morning.
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