Côte d'Ivoire

Cote d'Ivoire: Pro-government militias make symbolic start to disarmament

GUIGLO, 21 May 2007 (IRIN) - The pro-government militia in Cote d'Ivoire's western region handed over a handful of guns and ammunition on Saturday which were burned together with some militia uniforms. The action which took place in the western town of Guiglo was in keeping with the terms of a peace deal although many observers say full implementation of the agreement still has a long way to go.

"Since the start of the crisis the militias have shown that they hold very powerful weapons but I fear that they will decide to hide their bigger weapons to use again later," a military officer serving with the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI), who spoke on condition of anonymity as he did have authorisation, said.

Three collection sites have been set up in the west of the country at the villages of Doke, Ziaglo and Blolequin, according to the Ivorian army. President Laurent Gbagbo who attended a ceremony said around 1,000 weapons have been already been collected from the militia who claim to be 15,000 strong.

"We have agreed to deposit our arms without imposing any preconditions," militia commandant Denis Maho Glofeis, head of the Front de Resistance du Grand-Ouest (FRGO) told IRIN.

But the UN military officer said, "If they want to prove their sincerity they must deliver all the arms at their disposal,"

Cote d'Ivoire has been divided between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since disagreements over land and citizenship sparked a civil war in 2002. While the Ivorian army held much of the south, in the south-west the government relied mostly on armed militias to ensure their home region did not fall into rebel hands.

The current national disarmament programme requires that both pro- and anti-government fighters disarm as part of a series of moves to end the country's a four-year political impasse. Arms are to be collected from former rebel Forces Nouvelles at their main strongholds including Bouake, Man and Korhogo, President Gbagbo said.

Rebel representatives say they are waiting to see if the pro-government militias follow through before handing their guns over.

The government had attempted to disarm the western militias in July 2006 but failed with militiamen handing over just 150 weapons. At the time the Ivorian army was reportedly concerned about the growing strength of the western militias; human rights groups accused the militias of attacking civilians 'with impunity'.

Disarmament was one of the issues which had confounded previous UN-backed peace deals.

In accordance with the current peace deal, the head of former Forces Nouvelles, Guillaume Soro, has been appointed prime minister by President Gbagbo. The dividing line between north and south Cote d'Ivoire has been erased and some foreign peacekeepers have already withdrawn.