June 29, 2005

Ivory Coast foes rework disarmament timetable

By Alain Ngono

PRETORIA (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's civil war foes tried torevive a deadlocked peace process on Wednesday, sayingpro-government militias should start disarming immediately butsetting no date for rebel fighters to do the same.

Ivory Coast's president, rebel chief and opposition leaderssaid in a statement after talks hosted by South Africa'spresident that it would be impossible to hold presidentialpolls as planned in October if no progress is made ondisarmament.

The elections are meant to herald the end of a conflictthat exploded when rebels tried to oust President LaurentGbagbo in 2002 and seized the north of the world's top cocoagrower.

The talks in Pretoria were supposed to revive an Aprilpeace deal -- just the latest of many deadletter accords --which stalled over political squabbling and delays indisarmament on both sides of the war in the former Frenchcolony.

The statement said the disarmament of pro-governmentmilitias should start immediately and end by August 20. It saidrebel and army chiefs would meet on July 7 to finalize theadoption of a disarmament timetable. The statement saidfighters should start handing in guns by the end of July.

The commitments mirrored those made numerous times beforeby the belligerents in a war that has killed thousands anddragged on for years, fueled by mistrust and fear on all sidesthat disarmament would mean losing one's bargaining power.

The latest disarmament deadline expired on Monday, with noaction taken by either side.


Wednesday's statement reminded the participants of thepotential sanctions for foot-dragging.

"The parties .... agree that the AU (African Union) shouldimpose appropriate sanctions against those parties who fail toimplement the Pretoria agreements and block the peace process."

South African President Thabo Mbeki said at the end of thetalks that the Ivorians had "committed themselves to doingeverything to remove ... obstacles that may exist" to thepresidential election.

Ahead of the South African talks, frustrations had beenmounting in Ivory Coast with rebels accusing Gbagbo of plottingattacks and the cocoa-rich west on edge after scores of peoplewere killed in a wave of ethnic violence.

Rebels have previously said they would not disarm untilmilitias had laid down their weapons. The militias say thebloodshed in the west shows it is not safe for them to do so.

Rebels also want a series of amendments to laws onnationality and other issues to be passed before they willsurrender their guns.

The statement said the National Assembly should adopt theamendments by July 15 or Mbeki, appointed mediator by theAfrican Union, would have the right to recommend Gbagbo takeexceptional measures to push the amendments through.

It also called for the country's planned IndependentElectoral Commission to become operational by the end of July.