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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 13 May 2005

COTE D IVOIRE: Start of disarmament delayed again

ABIDJAN, 13 May 2005 (IRIN) - Cote d'Ivoire's warring factions have again postponed the date on which pro-government militia groups and rebel forces are due to start handing over their weapons to UN peacekeepers.

At a crunch summit in South Africa last month, President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro agreed to study a proposal for the repeatedly delayed disarmament process to start on 14 May.

However, it became clear this week that more meetings would have to be held before a firm date is set for handing in the first weapons.

An official of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (CNDDR) told IRIN on Friday that government and rebel army chiefs would meet once more in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire's official capital, on Saturday to agree on when disarmament should start.

"The scientific committee has just finished its work (organising the timeline for disarmament) and everyone will go to Yamoussoukro to sign the deal," the official, who declined to be named, told IRIN on Friday.

This is the second time in a fortnight that the two sides are meeting in Yamoussoukro, 200 km northwest of the port city of Abidjan, to thrash out a timetable for disarmament.

They were supposed to reach a deal last week, but talks dragged on into the weekend and broke up without an agreement. The two sides said the CNDDR would probably announce a new date for the start of disarmament on 13 May. That announcement has now been pushed back by 24 hours.

"All being well, we should... arrive in Yamoussoukro on Saturday to hold a signing ceremony and to announce the dates," Colonel Jules Yao Yao, the spokesman of the government's security forces, was quoted as saying in newspaper Soir-Info on Friday.

Disarmament is a key part of the peace jigsaw for Cote d'Ivoire. Politicians and diplomats say it is vital so that free and fair elections can take place on schedule at the end of October.

The West African country, which remains the world's largest cocoa producer despite nearly three years of civil war, has been split into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north since the civil war broke out in September 2002.

Many disarmament deadlines have come and gone, scuppered by mutual distrust and each side accusing the other of betraying peace deals.

But the clock is really ticking now that presidential elections, designed to return normal government to this West African nation, have been set for 30 October.

Diplomats say no-one will be able to go to the polls if the country is not reunified first. And for that to happen, weapons must be handed over.

As Ivorians waited for the two armies to announce a fresh date for disarmament, a World Bank report critical of the body charged with overseeing the process leaked out on Friday.

The confidential report, written in January, accused the CNDDR of being too centralised and lacking transparency in its financial management.

A World Bank source told IRIN that the report, which was first leaked by Agence France Presse, was genuine.

"A dubious distribution of responsibilities, an excessively centralised management, the absence of transparency (particularly with regard to financial management) and internal communication have been raised as the problems the CNDDR has to solve," the report said.

It also noted a conflict of interest in the role of CNDDR chairman Alain Donwahi, since he also serves as the commission's executive co-ordinator.

In 2003, the World Bank pledged to finance 40 billion CFA (US $77 million) of the estimated 78 billion CFA ($150 million) budget needed for the disarmament process.

Much of this will be used to pay a $900 resettlement grant to each former combatant who hands in his guns and ammunition.

However, technically the money cannot be disbursed before Cote d'Ivoire resumes servicing its debt to the World Bank, which is heavily in arrears.

In June 2004, the World Bank suspended the disbursement of more than $150 million of loans to Cote d'Ivoire because the government had fallen behind in debt repayment.


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