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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 9 May 2005

COTE D IVOIRE: New setback for peace as talks end with no date set to disarm

YAMOUSSOUKRO, 9 May 2005 (IRIN) - Cote d’Ivoire’s faltering peace process hit a new snag at the weekend when the government and rebels ended talks on disarmament without agreeing on a date for the rebels to begin handing in their weapons.

The long delayed disarmament process had been due to start Saturday 14 May.

However, rebel chiefs walked out of talks with government military commanders in the official capital Yamoussoukro on Saturday, saying pro-government militia groups must first hand in their guns before the rebels start to surrender theirs.

“We aren’t going to be tricked,” a rebel delegate told IRIN. “The militia must be dismantled first.”

Under the terms of a peace deal struck in the South African capital Pretoria last month, rebel fighters and pro-government militias operating in the divided West African country are to hand in their weapons prior to the creation of a united national army which is to include loyalist forces and some rebel fighters.

But the deputy leader of the New Forces rebel movement, Louis Andre Dacoury Tabley, told journalists on Sunday that the insurgents would not hand over their weapons until they were satisfied that President Laurent Gbagbo had stuck to his end of the deal.

“The New Forces did not take up arms one day in order to hand them in the next,” he said.

A rebel official who took part in the five days of talks in Yamoussoukro said the New Forces wanted to see more progress on the political front before making military concessions.

The rebels rapidly seized control of northern Cote d’Ivoire after the country plunged into civil war in September 2002 and have held it ever since. Gbagbo's administration, based in the port city of Abidjan, controls the densely forested south, which produces most of the country's cocoa and coffee exports.

Several dates for the start of disarmament have been set over the past two years, but all have been missed due to rebel distrust of the government.

Alain Richard Donwahi, the head of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation, played down the significance of the latest missed deadline.

“I can say that 90 percent of the work has been done. The only thing left is the timetable,” he said. “There are no problems.”

Donwahi said a new timetable for disarmament would be presented to government and rebel military chiefs on Friday for their approval.

“The talks were positive,” the disarmament coordinator added, citing progress towards reforming and rebuilding a new united army.

According to the Pretoria peace deal, disarmament is due to be completed by 31 July, paving the way for presidential and legislative elections in October.

The accord was signed by President Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro on 6 April after three days of talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Gbagbo and Soro agreed an immediate and definitive end to hostilities, but since then there has been fresh violence involving immigrant traders and farmers and local residents in the volatile west of Cote d'Ivoire.

At the end of April, 35 people were killed and 10,000 people fled their homes in the lawless western town of Duekoue, according to the local mayor Victor Tiehi Kpai.

Most of those who fled their homes as a result of the violence are still refusing to return, he told IRIN.

A major stumbling block to peace was removed last week when Gbagbo bowed to international and rebel pressure and agreed to let his main rival, Alassane Ouattara, run against him in the October presidential election.

Ouattara, a former prime minister who lives in exile in Paris, is backed by the rebel movement and his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party, which is the second largest opposition group in parliament.

But the rebels remain wary of Gbagbo and on the ground, ethnic and political tension remain so strong that aids groups have urged the UN and France to increase the strength of their combined peacekeeping force of 10,000 men when its mandate comes up for renewal on 4 June.

In a report last week, Human Rights Watch called for an immediate reinforcement of the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI), warning that if the fragile peace process breaks down, "attacks against civilians could set off a sudden spiral of human rights abuses that would be difficult to control".

"The blue helmets are too thinly spread and lightly equipped to deal with multiple attacks accompanied by civil unrest or communal violence," the group's Africa director Peter Takirambudde said. "The Security Council must approve the reinforcements without delay."


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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