Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: UN threatens sanctions after finding 62 military vehicles at port

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ABIDJAN, 30 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - UN officials monitoring an arms embargo against Cote d'Ivoire said on Thursday that they had found 62 military vehicles at Abidjan port, the first potential violation of the restrictions that were slapped on the divided West African nation seven months ago.

"It's the first concrete course we've found and there will be consequences", Pierre Schori, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Cote d'Ivoire, said at a weekly media briefing.

UN peacekeepers checking cargo at the fruit port in the country's main city of Abidjan had come across 62 grey military vehicles as well as crates, according to Colonel Philippe Vial, who heads military operations for the UN mission to Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI).

"We did not see any weapons," Vial told reporters, declining all further comment.

In a statement the Ivorian army said the shipment consisted of 22 jeeps delivered to the Defence Ministry by an Abidjan arms dealer at the request of the government.

The jeeps were a replacement shipment for an order of munitions that had been made and paid for before the UN arms embargo came into effect, the army said.

The UN Security Council banned the supply of arms and military hardware to Cote d'Ivoire on 15 November, days after Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo sent warplanes on bombing raids against rebel forces, violating a ceasefire accord and killing French peacekeepers in the process.

Schori said on Thursday that details of the possible violation had been sent to the UN sanctions committee in New York.

Cote d'Ivoire, the world's top cocoa producer, has been divided in two since a failed rebel coup in September 2002. Rebel forces control the north while troops loyal to Gbagbo hold the south, including the port city of Abidjan.

The main political factions in Cote d'Ivoire agreed at a summit in Pretoria on Wednesday to move ahead with a faltering peace process by setting new deadlines for disarmament.

Gbagbo, along with rebel leader Guillaume Soro and the leaders of the two main parliamentary opposition parties, agreed that the disarmament of the pro-government militias would start immediately and be completed by 20 August.

The 42,000 rebel fighters who control the north of Cote d'Ivoire would start handing in their weapons to UN peacekeepers at special cantonment sites by the end of July. Government and rebel military chiefs are due to meet on 7 July to finalise the timetable.

Disarmament must take place to allow the holding of elections on October 30 as agreed in previous peace deals between the two sides.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the conclusions of the summit and urged the parties to stick strictly to the new dates.

"The time has come to move on this path briskly," said a statement issued by his office on Thursday. "The Secretary-General also notes that the declaration envisages the imposition of sanctions against those parties who fail to implement the Pretoria Agreement."

The Security Council's November resolution threatened travel bans and asset freezes for anyone found to be blocking the peace process.

[ENDS]

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