UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Peacekeeping mandate extended for one month, talks in Pretoria continue
DAKAR, 5 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - The UN mandate of 10,000 international peacekeeping troops in Cote d'Ivoire has been extended provisionally for one month while South African-mediated talks aimed at breaking a two-year impasse in the country's peace process continue in Pretoria.
Hosted by South African President Thabo Mbeki, the talks between Cote d'Ivoire's main faction leaders began on Sunday and were continuing for a third day on Tuesday.
Few signs have emerged so far that the talks, attended by Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, rebel leader Guillaume Soro, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and the leaders of Cote d'Ivoire's two main opposition parties, have made much progress.
The independent Ivorian newspaper Le Front reported on Tuesday that they were shrouded in "an atmosphere of prudence and mutual suspicion."
The government newspaper Fraternite Matin reported that Gbagbo and the rebels were only due to begin discussing the contentious reform of article 35 of the constitution to allow opposition leader Alassane Ouattara to stand in the next presidential election, on Monday night.
The reform of article 35, which was used to ban Ouattara from standing against Gbagbo in the 2000 presidential election, is one of the key issues which must be resolved before rebels occupying the north of the West African country agree to disarm.
On Monday night, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution proposed by France, which extended the mandate of 6,000 UN peacekeepers and 4,000 French soldiers in Cote d'Ivoire until 4 May.
The peacekeepers' previous mandate expired on Monday and France, the former colonial power in Cote d'Ivoire, has come under increasing pressure from Gbagbo's supporters to withdraw its troops from the country.
French troops intervened to stop government air raids on the rebel-held north in November last year by disabling Gbagbo's small air force on the ground. The move prompted several days of anti-French riots in the capital Abidjan and the departure of most of the remaining French residents in Cote d'Ivoire.
The latest Security Council resolution warned "the situation in Cote d'Ivoire continues to pose an international threat to peace and security in the region" and called upon all the country's main factions to "immediately and actively pursue a lasting and just solution to the current crisis, particularly through the African Union mediation led by President Thabo Mbeki."
Mbeki was called in to try to revive the peace progress following the flare-up of violence in November, but after five months he has little to show for his efforts. Diplomats have started to warn that time is running out, if Cote d'Ivoire is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in October as planned.
Cote d'Ivoire, which was once the most prosperous country in West Africa, plunged into civil war in September 2002.
The French-brokered Linas-Marcoussis peace agreement in January 2003 led to the formation of a broad-based government of national reconciliation three months later and the establishment of a ceasefire, which in recent months has been wearing thin.
Implementation of the Marcoussis peace agreement has been in trouble since the rebels missed their first target date for starting to disarm in August 2003 and moves towards peace have been deadlocked for the past year.
Gbagbo, who has dragged his feet in implementing political reforms provided for by the Marcoussis peace deal, has made clear that he dislikes many of its provisions and distrust between Ggagbo, the rebels and the parliamentary opposition parties remains high.
The Marcoussis accord remains the roadmap of Mbeki and the international community for negotiating a lasting peace in Cote d'Ivoire, but many diplomats believe it is now in serious danger of falling apart, a move that could push the country back into open conflict.
The UK decided last week to close its embassy in Cote d'Ivoire amid fears that it was heading towards a fresh outbreak of violence.
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