UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Security Council approves 850 extra peacekeepers
ABIDJAN, 24 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - The UN Security Council agreed on Friday to send 850 extra troops to war-divided Cote d'Ivoire, but the reinforcements fell short of the 2,000 soldiers that UN officials said were necessary to keep the peace in the run-up to presidential elections.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, appointed by the African Union to act as a mediator in the conflict, has meanwhile invited all the main Ivorian factions to a fresh summit in Pretoria on Tuesday to breath fresh life into the flagging peace process.
Plans for the Ivorian rebels to start disarming more than 42,000 rebel fighters next Monday have been put on ice, pending the outcome of this meeting
"It's obvious that disarmament will not start on 27 June," Jean-Luc Stalon, the head of the UN disarmament section in Cote d'Ivoire, told reporters on Thursday. "Clearly the disarmament process and the political process are intimately linked."
With time running out after endless delays to the disarmament process, Pierre Schori, the head of the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire, has openly questioned the feasibility of holding presidential elections on 30 October as scheduled.
"There is now a risk of a delay to the disarmament and the elections," he said in an interview with BBC radio on Friday. "That should not be allowed to happen because we are on the verge of peace."
In an unanimous vote in New York, the 15-nation UN Security Council decided to send an extra 850 UN peacekeepers to reinforce the 6,000 already on the ground in Cote d'Ivoire.
It also authorised 375 more civilian police, taking that contingent up to 725, and raised the possibility of UN peacekeepers stationed in Liberia and Sierra Leone temporarily reinforcing the Cote d'Ivoire force.
The mandate of the peacekeeping force, known by its French acronym ONUCI, was extended until 24 January 2006.
The UN force is supported by 4,000 French peacekeeping troops under independent command.
Schori voiced his disappointment at the smaller-than-expected UN troop reinforcement, particularly in view of an outbreak of ethnic violence earlier this month in Duekoue in western Cote d'Ivoire, that killed over 100 people.
"Any reinforcement is very welcome... it will increase security, but not to the level that we had hoped. So if there are for instance three simultaneous Duekoue tragedies, we will not be able to tackle our part," the veteran Swedish diplomat told reporters in New York ahead of the Security Council vote.
Cote d'Ivoire has been split into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north for almost three years. Civil war broke out in September 2002 and seven months of fierce fighting followed. Since then, there has been an uneasy stand-off.
Mbeki is the latest international mediator to try to put a battered 2003 peace agreement between President Laurent Gbagbo and the northern rebels back on the rails.
But now his eight-month-old peace initiative is becoming bogged down like others before it.
The first Ivorian peace summit which Mbeki hosted in Pretoria in April failed to kick-start the much-delayed disarmament process and Gbagbo is still dragging his feet over the implementation of agreed political reforms.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned in his latest report on Cote d'Ivoire, dated 17 June that: "Time is swiftly running out for the organisation of the first round of presidential elections."
"The Ivorian parties need urgently to take the steps necessary to establish the reconstituted Independent Electoral Commission and to resolve other outstanding issues if the electoral process is to remain on track," Annan said. "They cannot afford to miss this window of opportunity for restoring peace."
Annan was due to meet Gbagbo in New York on Friday to inject fresh momentum into the flagging peace process ahead of the new Pretoria summit on 28 June.
A South African official said that Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro would attend the talks, along with Alassane Ouattara, the exiled leader of the opposition Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party; former president Henri Konan Bedie, the leader of the Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI), the largest opposition party in parliament; and Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, who heads a broad-based government of national reconciliation.
All took part in the first Pretoria summit back in April, where Mbeki managed to hammer out a tentative deal between Gbagbo and his opponents.
Some breakthroughs have been made since then, notably Gbagbo's decision to use his special powers to allow Ouattara to stand in the October presidential election.
Ouattara, a former prime minister, was banned from running in the 2000 poll on the disputed grounds that his father was from Burkina Faso. His exclusion from that election was widely regarded as a key factor behind the rebel uprising.
However, the Pretoria agreement failed to persuade the rebels to disarm and tension on the frontline has been growing, particularly in the "Wild West" where the Duekoue killings took place. Gbagbo has now imposed military rule in the troubled region.
Rebel and opposition leaders are meanwhile angry that Gbagbo has put the National Institute of Statistics in charge of voter registration, saying this is the rightful job of the Independent Electoral Commission.
And they blame the president's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party for holding up the approval of key laws on identity and nationality in parliament.
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