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Ivory Coast Prime Minister Seeks to Resume Peace Efforts

17 December 2006

Ivory Coast's prime minister is downplaying his differences with President Laurent Gbagbo and promises to resume the process of disarmament of fighters and national identification of undocumented northerners in preparation for general elections. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar, with reporting by Baudelaire Mieu in the Ivory Coast administrative capital Yamoussoukro.

Speaking to several media outlets including VOA, Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny acknowledges there have been what he calls "hesitations" between him and President Gbagbo.

In a high profile tug-of-war with the prime minister, Mr. Gbagbo recently reinstated three senior civil servants who had been suspended by Mr. Banny. The three senior officials were suspended for their role in the toxic waste scandal, in which tons of chemicals were unloaded in Abidjan, killing 10 people and sending thousands to hospitals.

The president also made unilateral changes in top media positions, defying one of the prime minister's other roles in the government as communications minister.

Mr. Banny did not address these acts directly, but expressed concerns that Mr. Gbagbo was moving away from a U.N. road map for peace, which calls for power sharing between the prime minister and president.

He said consensus was needed, both national and international. He said solutions would be found within Ivory Coast, but that politicians should not veer into what he called ostracism.

In the meantime, Mr. Banny said efforts to disarm fighters and identify undocumented northerners will resume.

He said the peace process had been completely stopped for a while, but that the willingness for peace remained. He promised the national identification process will resume on Monday.

Rebels, who control the north of the divided Ivory Coast are demanding that millions of northerners be given nationality papers and voting cards.

Mr. Banny said the disarmament process would resume Tuesday with meetings in Abidjan between rebel leaders and government soldiers. He said the preliminary stage, started in May 2006, will eventually lead to disarmament and the creation of a new national army.

The identification phase is supposed to lead to elections before October 2007. Similar efforts have been tried before, but progress has been slow, leading to repeated extensions.

Rebels have controlled northern Ivory Coast since late 2002, while Mr. Gbagbo has been in power since disputed elections in 2000.

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