UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Start of disarmament put back to 27 June, rebels remain guarded
ABIDJAN, 16 May 2005 (IRIN) - Army and rebel chiefs in Cote d'Ivoire have set 27 June as the start date for a long-delayed disarmament programme, which is designed to pave the way for national reunification and presidential elections in October.
The deal was worked out at talks in the country's official capital Yamoussoukro on Saturday, the day when disarmament should actually have started, according to the latest peace accord signed Pretoria last month.
“The operations of DD (disarmament and demobilisation) will run from 27 June to 10 August 2005,” said a joint statement read out by Alain Donwhai, the chairman of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation (CNDDR).
The statement was signed by Colonel Philippe Mangou, the chief of staff of the government armed forces which control the south of Cote d'Ivoire, and Colonel Soumaila Bakayoko, the commander of rebel forces which have occupied the north of the West African country since civil war broke out in September 2002.
However, the New Forces rebel movement has ignored a string of earlier deadlines for handing in its weapons to UN peacekeepers because of its deep distrust of President Laurent Gbagbo.
Amadou Kone, a senior aide to rebel leader Guillaume Soro, said disarmament would only work this time if Gbagbo kept scrupulously to his side of the political bargain.
“The New Forces are ready [to disarm] providing that all the conditions are finished and in place,” he told IRIN.
“It is necessary that we have a durable process in place and that all the accords signed since Accra, are adhered to… If everything is not done then evidently, disarmament will not pass off smoothly,” he warned.
The Accra accords, signed in July last year, envisaged the rebels starting to disarm on 15 September 2004, but they failed to do so, arguing that Gbagbo had yet to implement political reforms which he had promised.
Mangou told reporters after Saturday's meeting in Yamoussoukro that he was “very satisfied” with the latest disarmament deal, which should see pro-government militia groups as well as the rebels handing in their weapons.
“I am hopeful for the future,” he said.
Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, who leads a broad-based but largely ineffective government of national reconciliation, was also optimistic.
“We now have a document that is tangible proof of the resumption of the country’s reunification process,” he said.
Under the agreed schedule, political and military leaders have less than three months to complete disarmament and reunify the divided country ahead of presidential elections scheduled for 30 October.
There has been an uneasy ceasefire between the two sides for the past two years, but it remains unclear how many former combatants will register for disarmament and claim the resettlement grant of 500,000 CFA francs (US $960) on offer.
Donwahi said that a full list of those to be disarmed would be available from 5 June.
Some rebel fighters, including several hundred who formerly served in the police and army, will be reintegrated into the government security forces.
The CNDDR has set up 36 sites spread over the country where combatants will be able to hand in their weapons. However, only half are ready for use.
The other half, according to Donwahi, have not been completed since funding to pay for the work has been blocked.
The World Bank is supposed to finance more than 50 percent of the total 78 billion CFA (US $150 million) budget needed for disarmament, but this and other World Bank money earmarked for Cote d'Ivoire will only be disbursed when the government clears its heavy arrears to the institution.
Meanwhile, the various players in the Cote d'Ivoire crisis are moving preparations for the October elections into top gear.
President Gbagbo has already ordered the National Statistics Institute to start updating the electoral register and Alan Doss, the deputy UN representative in Abidjan, said last week that a UN team would arrive in Abidjan soon to help plan the poll.
The Pretoria Accord, mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, specified that "the United Nations be invited to participate in the work of the Independent Electoral Commission."
Its exact role in the electoral process has yet to be fully spelt out.
Meanwhile, the four main opposition parties in parliament are due to hold talks in Paris on Thursday on presenting a joint candidate to challenge Gbagbo in the presidential election.
The self-styled ‘Alliance of Houphouetistes’ consists of politicians who were formerly close to Felix Houphouet Boigny, Cote d'Ivoire's first president, who ruled from independence in 1960 until his death in office in 1993.
One of the key leaders of this embryonic alliance is Henri Konan Bedie, the present leader of Houphouet-Boigny's Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI). He took over as head of state when Houphouet-Boigny died and ruled until he was ousted by a coup in 1999.
The other is Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister under Houphouet-Boigny. He now leads the Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party, that is closely identified with the northern rebels.
“They are joining forces to win back power by legal and peaceful means,” PDCI secretary-general Alphonse Djedje Mady told IRIN.
Diplomats said the pact would be negotiated in Paris because both leaders were worried about their safety in Cote d’Ivoire.
Konan Bedie still lives in Cote d'Ivoire, but Ouattara sought refuge in the German Embassy in Abidjan at the outbreak of the civil war and has lived in exile in France since then.
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