ABIDJAN, 3 August (IRIN) - Controversial law reforms promulgated by Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo last month comply with the country's peace agreements, despite criticism from opposition parties and rebels, diplomats told IRIN on Wednesday.
The six legal texts, passed by presidential decree on 15 July, were revised by a delegation of independent legal advisors from Rwanda and Burundi to make sure they were in keeping with the January 2003 peace deal known as Linas-Marcoussis and a more recent accord hammered out in Pretoria in June, an African diplomat told IRIN.
The legal advisors were sent by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is acting as mediator in the almost three-year-old crisis that has split Cote d'Ivoire into a rebel-held north and a government-run south.
"The legal advisors came here three months ago and they went through all the laws," the Abidjan-based diplomat said. "They also went to each and every signatory of Linas-Marcoussis and sat down with them to discuss [the reforms]."
"The fact of the matter is, Gbagbo carried out what was required of him," he said.
A Western diplomat agreed.
"Whether you like him or not, Gbagbo has stuck to his part of the deal," he commented.
But the opposition and the rebels say that the laws do not conform to the spirit of the peace deals, and the rebels have held off sending thousands of fighters to cantonment sites ahead of a planned disarmament because of this.
Sunday's deadline to begin moving 40,500 rebels back to barracks came and went without a single New Forces fighter moving, despite two days of talks between government and rebel military commanders on the so-called pre-regroupment operation.
"The first pre-regroupment of the armed forces of the New Forces will only happen when the nationality and identity laws are voted through in conformity with the letter and the spirit of Linas-Marcoussis and Pretoria," senior rebel official Soumaïla Bakayoko told a press conference in the rebel stronghold, Bouake, on Tuesday.
The G7 grouping of opposition parties said last week that at least three reforms were not up to standard, and complained they had not been consulted about the changes.
The reforms are as crucial to the peace process as disarmament -legal changes have been a key demand of the northern-based rebels since they launched their insurgency to topple Gbagbo in September 2002.
The reforms relate to nationality and naturalisation; the law defining the powers and composition of the Independent Electoral Commission; identity cards for foreigners; the National Human Rights Commission; and the law on financing of political parties and presidential candidates.
Gbagbo's opponents are worried that the number of voters in the October election will be restricted and fear the electoral commission will be too weak to supervise the ballot effectively.
But the African diplomat said that now that the reforms had been implemented, all sides should look ahead and focus on disarmament.
"Most of the people who are raising issues with the laws are playing political games," the diplomat said.
Diplomats and analysts agree that Gbagbo might be doing what is required of him because he wants the elections to be held on schedule 30 October - despite widespread pessimism over the possibility of organising the poll within the constitutionally-stipulated three months.
"Gbagbo clearly thinks he can win the elections and he has a point," a Western security analyst told IRIN. "How are his political rivals possibly going to campaign? They haven't set foot in Cote d'Ivoire for months."
But there remains a technical hurdle. The constitution also stipulates that electoral lists have to be published at least 90 days before the scheduled poll date. There are just 88 days to go until 30 October.
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