Côte d'Ivoire

Delay to Ivory Coast polls due Oct 30 seen likely

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By Peter Murphy
ABIDJAN, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast is unlikely to hold presidential elections as planned on Oct. 30 due to missed disarmament deadlines and arguments over the West African state's peace plan, analysts and diplomats said on Tuesday.

The election is supposed to mark the end of a debilitating conflict in the world's top cocoa grower but time is running out to start the necessary preparations as fresh violence and political disputes burden an already foundering peace process. "I think we're facing a situation where sooner or later, it will have to be admitted that the Oct. 30 deadline can't be held," a European diplomat told Reuters.

Rebels who seized the north after a failed 2002 coup attempt missed a deadline on Sunday to move into cantonment sites for disarmament, saying laws adopted by President Laurent Gbagbo were not in keeping with a French-brokered peace plan.

Compounding doubts further, voter lists supposed to be published three months before the elections have yet to be updated, let alone displayed for checks by voters as they wait for a chance to register in the former French colony's polls.

Tensions flared again last month after a series of attacks on police stations in the government-run south which the ruling party blamed on rebels. Rebel leader Guillaume Soro said they were a "poorly staged set-up" by government forces.

Opposition parties said Gbagbo orchestrated the attacks to derail the peace process, scupper elections and remain in power. Pro-government youths beat up some opponents and tore up opposition newspapers last week.

A Western diplomat said the raids on police stations, in which at least 24 people were killed, bore the hallmarks of a staged raid that might give Gbagbo an excuse to increase security and muzzle opposition parties.

"His strategy is to intimidate the opposition and prevent them from campaigning for the elections, which he will be able to control better in a climate of tension," he said.

The diplomat added he had little hope that the polls, which he thought would be delayed by at least a month or two, would prove a quick resolution to the conflict in the country.

"As time goes by, the deeper (the crisis) gets. For the moment, I think we have only seen the start of the Ivory Coast crisis," he said.

But Alan Doss, special envoy in the country's 6,240-strong United Nations mission, which along with 4,000 French peacekeepers secures a buffer zone separating the two foes, said all sides had to remain focused on organising the vote.

"It is now extremely difficult. We have to keep trying to move the process forward to free and fair elections," he said, adding that a senior U.N. representative would arrive soon to work on electoral preparations with both sides.

"Ivory Coast could bounce back fairly quickly," said Doss. "Most of the infrastructure is still there and (Abidjan) is still one of the best-functioning cities in West Africa."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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