Côte d'Ivoire

Cote d'Ivoire: Disarmament talks begin as UN warns of sanctions in case of delay

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YAMOUSSOUKRO, 7 July (IRIN) - The two sides in Cote d'Ivoire's three-year-old civil war made a fresh bid to set a timetable for disarmament on Thursday as the UN Security Council threatened sanctions in the event of further delays.

Rebel and army chiefs came together in the country's official capital for two days of talks to finalise the details of a disarmament timeline agreed by the country's main political leaders at a peace summit in Pretoria, South Africa, on 29 June.

The Pretoria agreement brokered by African Union mediator and South African President Thabo Mbeki demands that the 42,000-strong rebel army start handing in its weapons to UN peacekeepers at special cantonment sites by the end of July.

It also insists that pro-government militias operating in the loyalist south begin disarming immediately and complete the process by 20 August.

Disarmament must be completed before the world's top cocoa producer can reunify and hold presidential elections. The polls are planned for 30 October, but diplomats have been warning for months that it will be difficult to organise credible elections in such a short timeframe.

The civil war erupted in September 2002 and although a peace deal was agreed in principle four months later, international efforts to shepherd the divided West African nation towards peace have snagged repeatedly on the issue of disarmament. The Pretoria Two accord is only the latest in a string of attempts to put Cote d'Ivoire's flagging peace process back on track.

As international patience wears thin, the Security Council on Wednesday urged Ivorian parties to "comply scrupulously with the timetable agreed on 29 June 2005 in Pretoria" and the commitments agreed at an earlier peace summit in the South African capital last April.

"The Security Council affirms that it stands ready, in close consultation with the African Union mediation, to implement individual sanctions . against those who do not comply with these commitments to constitute an obstacle to their full implementation."

UN Security Council resolution 1572 of 15 November 2004, authorised a travel ban and asset freeze on individuals identified as blocking the peace process.

The United Nations subsequently drew up a confidential list of possible targets for such sanctions, but they have not so far been applied.

Officials attending the talks in Yamoussoukro said the military chiefs, flanked by members of the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI), were not only discussing a timetable for disarmament. They were also discussing ways of tightening security in the main southern city of Abidjan for rebel members of the country's government of national reconciliation.

Rebel ministers have failed to turn up at cabinet meetings in Abidjan since last October, saying they feared for their safety. Opposition politicians and members of the New Forces rebel movement hold half of the portfolios in the government chaired by independent Prime Minister Seydou Diarra.

The rebels failed to respect earlier deadlines established for starting disarmament because of delays in implementing agreed political reforms to give the four million immigrants from other West African countries and their offspring, greater rights to own land and take out Ivorian nationality.

Immigrants from neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea make up a quarter of Cote d'Ivoire's 16 million population.

The 29 June Pretoria declaration stated specifically that disarmament and political reform must go hand in hand.

"It was agreed that the intake of combatants should start as from the end of July 2005, recognising the linkage with the decision to amend the Nationality and Identity laws," the document said.

It gave parliament until 15 July to adopt seven laws proposed by the South African mediation team, but with only a week to go until this deadline runs out, no new bills have yet been submitted to the legislature.

These seven laws demanded by the Pretoria declaration relate to the reform of the Independent Electoral Commission, the financing of political parties, the right to Ivorian nationality, the issue of national identity documents, the establishment of a human rights commission and the regulation of newspapers, radio and television.

[ENDS]

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