UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
COTE D IVOIRE: Rebels refuse to prolong President Gbagbo's mandate, suspend disarmament talks
BOUAKE, 9 Aug 2006 (IRIN) - Cote d'Ivoire's faltering peace process appeared to be in trouble again after rebels who control the northern half of the country rejected a unilateral decision by President Laurent Gbagbo to remain in office if peace-sealing elections failed to be held.
“There will never be any question for the (rebel) New Forces of accepting any extension of Laurent Gbagbo’s mandate,” rebel leader Guillaume Soro said at a press conference held in the rebel stronghold of Bouake.
New Forces fighters seized control of the north after a failed coup almost four years ago and efforts spearheaded by the United Nations to reunite the former West African economic powerhouse have failed repeatedly.
In 2005, Gbagbo’s five-year mandate was extended until 31 October 2006 under a UN blueprint calling for voters in the war-divided nation to elect a new president and parliament. UN officials and diplomats agree however that there is little likelihood of the peace-sealing poll taking place on schedule due to delays and disagreements over organising the ballot and disarming rival combatants.
Responding to a nationally televised address by Gbagbo last Sunday, Soro also said the rebel side was pulling out of disarmament talks in protest against Gbagbo’s line on a series of questions touching on disarmament, elections and the touchy issue of handing out identity papers.
“You can’t change the rules during the match,” Soro said. “For the New Forces a new phase has begun. For the New Forces the recess is over.”
The rebel movement "is suspending talks on the military and disarmament process until the issue of delivering nationality certificates … is resolved," Soro added.
On Sunday, Gbagbo said a scheme to provide identity papers for an estimated three million undocumented Ivorians was not being carried out in accordance with the constitution. The programme began last month in both rebel and government territory but was stopped in several towns in the government south after Gbagbo supporters violently disrupted the hearings.
Under the scheme, public hearings are currently being held in nearly 25 towns, most of them in rebel territory, with scores of Ivorians and immigrants passing before a judge in hopes of proving they have a right to Ivorian ID papers.
The question of national identity was at the heart of the conflict as many of those without papers are from the north, and many rebel fighters say they will only hand over weapons against a national identity card - which also entitles the holder to vote.
Identification and disarmament are the two key obstacles before presidential elections planned for October can be held, and progress in resolving them has been slow. The UN, which maintains a 7,500-strong peacekeeping mission in the country, has warned that voting could be delayed as a result.
The army and the rebels have withdrawn some troops from the frontline between the rebel-held north and the government controlled south. However, the hand-over of weapons has yet to begin.
Some 19,000 Ivorians have received temporary proof of nationality, according to a spokesman from the opposition Rally of the Republicans (RDR). The party is closely monitoring the programme because many of its supporters lack proper identity papers.
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