ABIDJAN, 1 Aug 2005 (IRIN) - The much-delayed disarmament process in Cote d'Ivoire suffered another set-back on Sunday as the New Forces rebels refused to honour a deadline to send some 40,500 fighters to cantonments sites - a precursor to disarmament.
Last-minute talks between Cote d'Ivoire's army chief of staff Philippe Mangou and rebel commander Soumaila Bakayoko failed to salvage the situation over the weekend.
The main bone of contention are the law reforms promulgated by President Laurent Gbagbo by presidential decree on 15 July, rebel spokesman Antoine Beugre told IRIN, but other issues need to be addressed too before disarmament can start, he said.
"Nothing has been done," Beugre said by telephone. "There has been no identification process, there has been no disarmament of pro-government militias, but most of all, the law reforms do not comply with the  Marcoussis peace agreement."
Rebels say that the changes put in place without approval by parliament, would restrict the number of people eligible to vote in the October election and would limit the powers of the Independent Electoral Commission to supervise the ballot effectively.
The New Forces asked South African mediators to intervene before they will make any move to disarm.
Early last month, military commanders on both sides agreed to send tens of thousands of fighters to designated cantonment sites on 31 July.
Once gathered there, the troops are due to surrender their weapons to UN peacekeepers between 26 September and 3 October.
Bakayoko declined to comment to the press after the weekend talks, but his counterpart Mangou told reporters that political problems were the cause of yet another postponement of the disarmament process.
"Each side has chosen its [cantonments] sites, we agreed on all the technical aspects, but unfortunately the New Forces say they are not satisfied with the laws," Mangou said.
"So, we are waiting for the mediation to come to a decision," he said, referring to South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has helped revive the 2003 French-brokered Marcoussis peace agreement.
Political reforms have been a key demand of the rebel movement, which holds the northern half of the country since it failed to topple Gbagbo in a September 2002 putsch. Under scrutiny are seven reforms including laws on the national electoral commission and nationality.
According to Beugre the new laws on nationality and the electoral commission are not in keeping with Marcoussis.
"We wrote to [Mbeki] about his matter weeks ago and we are still waiting for a reply. As long as we don't have a reply, there will be no disarmament," said Beugre.
The Cote d'Ivoire military was not immediately available for comment.
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