ABIDJAN, 18 July (IRIN) - President Laurent Gbagbo announced at the weekend that he had legislated by decree a series of political reforms demanded as a prelude to disarmament by rebels occupying the north of Cote d'Ivoire.
The rebels and parliamentary opposition parties, who had expected to see the reforms voted through by parliament, gave a cautious welcome to the move, but said they were reserving final judgement until they saw the text of these legal amendments, once they are published soon in the official gazette.
Gbagbo announced in a televised speech on Friday night that he had used special powers available to him under article 48 of the constitution to legislate the reforms, which he had agreed to at a peace summit with rebel and opposition leaders in the South African capital Pretoria at the end of June.
He said these reforms related to the composition and powers of the Independent Electoral Commission, which is due to organise presidential elections on 30 October, and several laws concerning the right to Ivorian nationality and the rights of immigrants to Cote d'Ivoire from other West African countries.
Gbagbo said the reforms he had legislated by decree also concerned the financing of political parties and the creation of a national human rights commission.
The Pretoria Two agreement, negotiated under the aegis of South African President and African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki, called for all these reforms to be on the statute book by 15 July.
But Amadou Kone, a top aide to rebel leader Guillaume Soro, said on Monday that the New Forces rebel movement was waiting to see the small print.
"We are waiting to see," he told IRIN in the rebel capital Bouake. "Everyone is first of all satisfied with the president's speech, which denotes a certain willingness to put in place the accords we have signed. But we say this with great reticence because we are still waiting to see the decisions that have been made."
Parliamentary opposition leaders said they were dismayed that the reforms had not been submitted to parliament for scrutiny and approval in the normal manner.
Alphone Djedje Mady, chairman of the G7 opposition coalition, which groups the rebels and the four main opposition parties in parliament, accused Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party of placing "repeated obstructions" in the way of parliamentary approval of the new measures.
The G7 "regrets that these blockages made the country lose time, jeopardise national and electoral reconciliation and prolonging the suffering of the Ivoirian people," he said.
If the rebels finally agree that Gbagbo has fulfilled his side of the bargain, agreed at the Pretoria Two summit on 29 June, the way will be clear for 40,500 rebel combatants to start heading for a series of agreed cantonment sites on 31 July.
They are due to remain there until they surrender their weapons to UN peacekeepers between 26 September and 3 October.
However, under the terms of the Pretoria Two agreement, Gbagbo must fulfil one more promise before the rebels start to hand in their guns. The president must disarm and dismantle a series pro-government militia groups which have several thousand men under arms, by 20 August.
So far there has been virtually no progress on this front.
Kone, the rebel spokesman, reiterated on Monday: "It is the president who must take measures to reform the armed forces. It is the president who must ensure the dismantlement of militias that he created."
The rebels have missed endless deadlines for disarmament since they first signed a peace agreement with the government in January 2003. Each time they have cited Gbagbo's failure to fully implement his side of the bargain.
Gbagbo previously used emergency powers conferred on him by article 48 of the constitution in May to issue an executive order allowing exiled opposition leader Alassane Ouattara - barred from the 2000 presidential election because of doubts over his nationality - to stand in this year's poll.
Ouattara is strongly supported by the rebels in the north.
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