DAKAR, May 25 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and his former rebel foes are "speaking the same language", but peace efforts could be hurt by delays in disarmament and national identity schemes, a U.N. official said on Friday.
A timetable set by a March 4 peace accord to reunify the West African nation and hold elections in January 2008 had already slipped behind schedule, Abou Moussa, the acting U.N. mission chief in Ivory Coast, told Reuters.
He added that an April 21 deadline to start a full-scale disarmament and demobilisation process and begin a scheme to provide national identity papers to thousands of undocumented Ivorians had been missed, and this was a cause for concern.
"I am cautiously optimistic, but I will be more comfortable when some of those pending issues are off the ground," Moussa said in an interview on the sidelines of a meeting in Dakar of top U.N. representatives in West Africa.
"If they don't happen, then we will have a problem," he said, adding that delays in the disarmament and identification processes would inevitably affect the eventual timing of elections, foreseen for January 2008 but without a fixed date.
Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, was divided by rival factions into two in a 2002-2003 civil war and United Nations efforts to hold elections to seal a lasting peace and reunification have missed a string of deadlines since 2005.
But a new pact signed on March 4 by Gbagbo and New Forces rebel chief Guillaume Soro -- now Gbagbo's prime minister -- brought together the main antagonists of the Ivorian conflict and observers say this has given fresh impetus to peace moves.
"My feeling is both Soro and Gbagbo appear to be speaking the same language, which is very essential," Moussa said.
"I think they are moving in the same direction and so we should accompany them," he added, saying the U.N. was also modifying aspects of its mission in Ivory Coast to back the March peace deal signed in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
"Now our role will be that of certifying the process all along," he said.
ACCUSATIONS OF "MEDDLING"
Moussa said that as part of this adjustment, the U.N. was ending the post of its High Representative for Elections in Ivory Coast, Gerard Stoudman.
This task to help organise elections would now be carried out by a team attached to the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative in Ivory Coast. The previous special representative, Pierre Schori, left the post earlier this year, and a new envoy would be appointed, Moussa said.
Gbagbo, who is expected to stand for re-election in next year's polls, said this week he had asked the U.N. to remove both Schori and Stoudman because he said they were behaving "as if they had power to govern Ivory Coast".
"There have been some problems between the President and Mr. Stoudman," Moussa said.
The Ivorian president has often accused the U.N. of meddling in the former French colony.
Pro-Gbagbo militants have in the past staged violent demonstrations against the presence of the 7,000 U.N. troops and around 3,000 French soldiers who have been helping to keep the peace in the country, once an oasis of stability and prosperity.
Moussa said that if the Ivorian government wanted international support for the peace process and the elections it would have to accept a U.N. role in the process.
"Yes, they don't want us to meddle ... But if donors are going to be asked to put money somewhere, they will want us to be involved in the discussions and orientation," he added.
"I want to see results," Moussa said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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