UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: "Elections won't take place," rebel leader
BOUAKE, 25 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - The leader of the New Forces rebels, Guillaume Soro, on Thursday voiced what many Ivorian have been saying for months now – that peace-sealing presidential elections scheduled for 30 October will not take place.
“The New Forces are convinced that the presidential elections of 30 October, will not take place on that date,” said Soro as he summed up the results of a week-long seminar in the rebel-stronghold of Bouake.
The rebel leader said the new forces, who control the northern half of Cote d’Ivoire, were ready to take matters into their own hands.
“At mid-night of 30 October, the New Forces will do what they have to do,” said Soro, surrounded by senior rebel commanders dressed in fatigues and bullet-deflecting amulets.
Soro’s comments come only days after the former head of the armed forces, Mathias Doue, threatened to "oust" President Laurent Gbagbo by "any means" in an open letter published by local newspapers and a weekend radio interview.
Tensions are running high in the government-controlled main city Abidjan, which with its high-rise skyline was once a beacon of economic prosperity in the region.
Many residents, used to seeing their city shut down by fighting since the failed coup in September 2002 that launched the New Forces rebellion, have been stocking up on food and other provisions.
Stating the obvious?
This is the first time that a senior figure in the hobbling Ivorian peace process has stated that the polling date is not realistic.
But many Ivorian voters who have watched one deadline after another slip by had written off the possibility of an October ballot months ago.
With only nine weeks to go to polling day, over 40,000 rebel fighters and some 10,000 more pro-Gbagbo militias have yet to hand in a single weapon.
Disarmament of fighters is a key precondition to the reunification of the country and the holding of elections under a January 2003 peace deal.
Similarly, the voter register has not been updated, voting cards have not been issued – indeed, the Independent Electoral Commission that will oversee this process is not even up and running.
An argument about the role and responsibilities of the Commission caused the delay, but after talks in Bouake, Soro said that the rebels would reverse an earlier decision and send representatives to the Commission after all.
He also confirmed that the New Forces will continue to work with the South African mediating team, despite earlier rumblings that they were dissatisfied with President Thabo Mbeki’s role and may ask the UN to appoint a new mediator.
Another New Forces delegation will be traveling to South Africa in the coming days, said Soro.
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