Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: West African leaders discuss post-Marcoussis peace process

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ABIDJAN, 10 Feb 2003 (IRIN) - West African leaders met on Monday in the Ivorian capital, Yamoussoukro, to discuss the peace process in Cote d'Ivoire following the acceptance by President Laurent Gbagbo of an agreement concluded on 24 January in Linas-Marcoussis, France, that paves the way for a government of national reconciliation.
Rebels who occupy the north and parts of the centre and west of Cote d'Ivoire stayed away from the summit, calling for the full application of the accord, which Gbagbo said on Friday he would implement subject to conditions, including the compatibility of its provisions with the constitution. ECOWAS Secretary-General Mohamed Ibn Chambas, said after Monday's summit that the absence of the rebels did not cast doubts on the peace process.

Ibn Chambas said in a communique that the summit had focused on the peace process and the installation of Seydou Diarra, chosen as a consensus prime minister at a meeting which West African and other leaders held in Paris on 25-26 January following the Marcoussis Agreement.

Monday's meeting was attended by Gbagbo, Diarra, presidents John Kufuor of Ghana, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, South African Vice President Jacob Zuma, the interim executive secretary of the African Union, Amara Essy, and the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to ECOWAS, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah.

Ibn Chambas said that a first cabinet proposed by Diarra had not received the unanimous approval of the presidents, including Gbagbo, and that the incoming prime minister now had the task of continuing consultations with all parties to the Marcoussis Accord so as to form a government to which all agree.

Constitution takes precedence

Seven political parties and three rebel movements took part in the Linas-Marcoussis discussions, which lasted from 15 to 24 January. The accord they worked out aroused the wrath of the military and pressure groups supportive of Gbagbo, which immediately took to the streets. As the almost daily protests continued, they were joined by various interest groups, ranging from trade unionists and handicapped persons, who described the accord's provisions as unconstitutional.

However, Gbagbo said on Friday that where the accord clashed with Cote d'Ivoire's constitution, the latter would take precedence. One of the contentious points of the accord, he said, was a stipulation that the new prime minister may not be dismissed before 2005. "That is incompatible with the constitution, which states that the President of the Republic shall appoint the prime minister and terminate his functions," Gbagbo said. "There are a few points like that one which attempt to shift our system from a presidential to a parliamentary one, but we are not in a parliamentary system. We are in a presidential system and the cornerstone of all institutions is the president of the republic."

"I intend to keep all the prerogatives which the constitution places at my disposal," he said.

Referring to other points of the accord that had caused hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets over the past two weeks, Gbagbo said that the defence and security forces would not be disarmed. While their disarmament is mentioned in the accord, Gbagbo said this resulted from a misinterpretation and had not been the intention of the drafters of the agreement. He also denied reports that the rebels had been given the portfolios of defence and the interior in the new government, which had also angered his supporters.

Other key aspects of the accord include provisions relating to citizenship, a rural land law, and conditions governing eligibility to run for president. Under the new agreement, presidential candidates would have to prove that one of their parents are Ivorians, and not both as required by the existing constitution. However, Gbagbo said that any aspects of the accord that deviate from the constitution could only be considered proposals "because we are not going to strip the people of their prerogatives with regard to referendums [on any proposed amendments to the constitution] and we are not going to strip the National Assembly of its prerogatives with regard to voting laws."

He said he was committed to the spirit of the accord which, he added, upheld respect for the institutions of the republic, territorial integrity and the restoration of the authority of the state throughout the country, and was aimed at achieving peace in Cote d'Ivoire. He urged the population to "accept the spirit of the Marcoussis agreement as a basis for working".

In Abidjan, the majority of reactions carried on state radio and television, and in the print media were favourable to the president's position. On the other hand, the rebels have called on Gbagbo to apply both the spirit and letter of the agreement.

France beefs up troops

Meanwhile, France has increased by 450 the number of soldiers it has stationed in Cote d'Ivoire, bringing them to around 3,000. Their mandate includes protecting French and other foreign nationals and acting as a buffer between the rebels and government forces pending the completion of the deployment of West African troops, a small number of whom have already arrived in Cote d'Ivoire.

In related news, the US State Department has sent 10 men to Abidjan to beef up security at its embassy, according to a State Department spokesperson.

[ENDS]

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