By Mary Motta
Abidjan, 01 August 2005 - Ivory Coast's national army and rebel military commanders continue to meet, after failing Sunday to reach an agreement on how disarmament should begin in the divided West African state.
On Sunday, the national army and rebel forces were supposed to begin moving to sites that had been chosen for gathering troops in preparation for disarmament. But both sides said that while agreement had been reached at the technical level, there is a problem on the political level.
Military spokesman Karim Ouattara, of the rebel group the New Forces, said the talks have stalled. Holding up the process, he said, is an apparent dispute over the number of sites where an estimated 40,000 rebel and 5,500 loyalist fighters will be demobilizing and then disarming.
The national commission wants no more than 100 sites total, but the current tally stands at 140, including 100 in the rebel-held north.
The provisions of the peace deal were included in the so-called Marcoussis agreement, signed by the main political parties and rebels groups in 2003 in France.
Rebel spokesman Outtara says there is a process in place that will force the laws to conform to the provisions of the Marcoussis peace deal. He says the rebels have done their part to help, and all the technical elements are in place for the disarmament process to begin.
A spokesman for President Laurent Gbagbo, Seri Bahy, says the government is looking to South African President Thabo Mbeki to inervene, along with his representative here in the Ivory Coast Silumko Sokupa.
"It is important that we all understand now that the president has done everthing, and this has been reaffirmed, or confirmed and reiterated by the representative of President Mbeki and Mr. Sokupa, here with the media," he said. "He said, I quote, that President Gbagbo has completed his task. Now what is left is for the others to complete their task, so we can reach normalcy in the country."
The issue of laying down arms is key to the peace process to reconcile the country, the world's top cocoa producer, after nearly three years of conflict.
Mr. Outtara warned that the failed talks Sunday between loyalist chief of staff General Philippe Mangou and rebel commander General Soumaila Bakayoko, could be bad news for Ivory Coast's future. He said that this was an appeal to all political parties to do as they said they were going to do, otherwise the country will remain divided.
The state-run disarmament commission has been criticized by international groups, including the World Bank, for not being organized.
Presidential elections are scheduled for October 30, but are not likely to be held until both sides disarm.