UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Pro-government militia hand over token weapons as disarmament starts
ABIDJAN, 25 May 2005 (IRIN) - Cote d'Ivoire's shaky peace process moved forward on Wednesday when four pro-government militia groups took a first step towards demobilisation by each handing in a token Kalashnikov rifle.
The militia groups, based in the lawless west of Cote d'Ivoire, surrendered the weapons to Colonel Philippe Mangou, the chief of staff of the armed forces, at a ceremony in Guiglo, a small town 500 km northwest of the capital Abidjan.
Rebel forces occupying the north of the country had insisted that President Laurent Gbagbo disarm the shadowy militia groups which support his rule in the south before they start handing their own weapons to UN peacekeepers on 27 June.
Disarmament is supposed to pave the way for the reunification of the country and the holding of presidential elections on 30 October.
Local authorities, army chiefs and several hundred unarmed militia members attended the ceremony in Guiglo, a small town at the centre of a cocoa-growing area that has been plagued by rural violence.
But the start was delayed for several hours by a disagreement over whether a real weapon should be handed in, since some militia groups have always denied possessing arms, a UN official in Guiglo told IRIN
"At first, the militia leaders just shook hands with Mangou, but later they returned and all handed over an old Kalashnikov," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Colonel Jules Yao Yao, the official spokesman of the government security forces, told IRIN: "We invite them to join the new scheme of peace and we ask them to do everything so that peace will return to the region. These self-defence groups have to hand in their weapons."
Under the terms of a peace deal struck in the South African capital Pretoria on 6 April, paramilitary and militia groups are to hand in their weapons prior to the disarmament of the rebel forces.
The total number of pro-government militia members is unknown, but analysts say there are several thousand.
Maho Glofiei, leader of the best-known and largest militia in Guiglo, the Liberation Front for the Grand West (FLGO), says he commands 7,000 men.
Glofiei wants his combatants to be included in the national disarmament programme, the UN official told IRIN.
A representative of the government commission that is supervising the disarmament process gave a pledge at the ceremony that this would be arranged, he added.
Former combatants in the civil war, which began in September 2002, will be eligible for a resettlement grant of 500,000 CFA francs (US $960).
Some rebel fighters, including several hundred who formerly served in the police and army, will be reintegrated into the government security forces.
"We have decided to adhere to the peace process and to respect military discipline because we have fought alongside the security forces," Glofiei was quoted as saying in the government newspaper Fraternite-Matin on Wednesday. “But we will be unpleasant if we are not taken into account in the disarmament programme,” he added.
The other pro-government militia groups that participated in Wednesday's ceremony at Guiglo were the Patriotic Alliance of the Wê (AP-Wê), the Union of Patriots for the Resistance of the Grand West (UPRGO) and the Ivorian Movement for the Liberation of the West of Cote d'Ivoire (MILOCI).
MILOCI claimed responsibility for an attack on February 28 the rebel-held frontline town of Logouale, not far from Guiglo. It was the first serious breach of the ceasefire agreement in months and left at least 15 people dead.
"We want peace and we want the reunification of our country," a MILOCI spokesman known as commander Goh told IRIN. "We totally support (disarmament) on condition that the rebels totally adhere to it as well."
Rebel spokesman Amadou Kone cautiously praised Wednesday's ceremony, saying it was a positive sign that the militias were soon to be disbanded.
"It's a good thing that the militias are going to be dismantled," he told IRIN. "But we don't know how efficient the dismantling will be, so we'll have to wait and see."
He said there were still other issues to be dealt under the Pretoria accord before the rebels disarmed.
"We agree that we should disarm rapidly, but we have to do it methodically," Kone said. "We still want parliament to amend legislation, we want the rehabilitation of disarmament sites and improved security. If all this is done before 27 June, yes, we will disarm."
Meanwhile, in the rebel stronghold of Bouake, the UN civilian police held a two-day training course for 24 former combatants who will work as military instructors for 600 rebels due to be reintegrated into the government security forces.
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