UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Rebels determined to get prime minister job
BOUAKE, 24 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - With a week to go before Cote d’Ivoire faces a new charged deadline in its simmering three-year conflict, rebel leader Guillaume Soro said on Monday that his side would not budge an inch unless they could fill the prime minister's chair.
In an interview in the rebel stronghold of Bouake, the country’s second biggest city, Soro said his New Forces movement had won the right to the top government job because they controlled half of the country.
The United Nations Security Council has called for a new prime minister to be appointed by next Monday -- 31 October -- in line with peace proposals outlined in last Friday’s resolution 1633.
Speaking after meeting with UN officials and diplomats, Soro told IRIN that he had transmitted the following message: “We will not accept the UN resolution 1633 unless the post of prime minister is given to the New Forces.”
“It is us that holds 60 percent of the country,” he went on to say in his study, furnished with antique chairs and the Ivorian flag of green, white and orange.
“It is us that will have to work with the government to reunite this country, therefore it is right that we - not any of the other signatories of Marcoussis - take the role of prime minister,” Soro said, referring to one of several peace plans that have come unstuck over the past three years.
Under the latest scheme, brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki, the West African nation was to have held presidential elections next Sunday when President Laurent Gbagbo’s mandate expired.
But both the rebels and pro-Gbagbo militia failed to hand in weapons, making a ballot unfeasible according to the UN.
Acting on proposals from the African Union, the UN instead called for elections to be held within 12 months, with Gbagbo remaining in office in the interim, and a new prime minister appointed.
The New Forces, who seized control of the northern half of Cote d’Ivoire after a failed coup in September 2002, want either Soro or his second in command, Louis Andre Dacoury, to head the new cabinet.
Reacting to the rebel statements, Pascal Affi Nguessan, the head of the ruling party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), said that the New Forces were playing games and showing they were not serious about peace
"They are uselessly upping the stakes," he said, speaking from the main southern city, Abidjan. “As far as we're concerned, the time has come to end hatred."
Diplomats say that South Africa’s Mbeki, head of an AU-appointed mediation team, is expected to visit Cote d’Ivoire before the end of the week to chair a meeting of government, rebel and opposition leaders to select the new prime minister.
President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria was scheduled to join the meeting, but a recent plane crash in Nigeria and the death of his wife following an operation in Europe have thrown the AU chairman’s attendance in doubt.
That may be a blow to rebel forces, who think Mbeki's peace efforts are biased towards Gbagbo and have urged him to stay away from Cote d’Ivoire.
“I really hope that President Thabo Mbeki will not embarrass us by putting us in that situation,” said Soro, sporting a grey suit.
Soro did not say what the rebels would do if their demands were not met. But on Sunday, rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate told IRIN that the New Forces were prepared to use all means necessary to shove Gbagbo aside after 30 October.
“Gbagbo’s mandate finishes on the 30 October and he has to go. He has no legality and no legitimacy. If he stays one day longer - even one hour longer - we will consider him a putchist," Konate said. "We will use all the means we have to make sure that he does not stay in power."
From behind his desk at rebel HQ - which used to be a former training college for nurses but where cows and sheep now graze on the overgrown flowerbeds - Konate denied that the rebels lacked the strength to remove Gbagbo by force if necessary.
“If it is a question of guns, we have no problem. We have the determination, the guns and the cause,” he said.
After three years of international mediation propped up by a 10,000-strong UN and French peacekeeping operation, diplomats say that the two sides are no closer to peace.
Antonio Monteiro, the UN’s high representative for elections in Cote d’Ivoire, told IRIN that there had been no substantive progress on registering around three million Ivorians who need ID cards before they can vote in the elections, whenever they end up happening.
The issue of ID and voting rights is a crucial battleground for the New Forces, who say that successive governments have failed to recognise the rights of millions of northerners of foreign origin.
This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005
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