Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast rebels to disarm by October under deal

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By Peter Murphy

YAMOUSSOUKRO, July 10 (Reuters) - Rebels holding northern Ivory Coast will disarm by early October if government militias keep their own promises to disband, officials said on Sunday as details emerged of the latest deal to end a three-year civil war.

At a ceremony in the capital Yamoussoukro late on Saturday, government officials and rebel chiefs signed an agreement setting out dates for fighters from both sides to disarm ready for elections due on Oct. 30.

The document, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, indicated that 40,500 military personnel from rebel areas and 15,000 from the government zone would disarm and demobilise between late September and Oct. 3 -- a date confirmed by a U.N. disarmament official.

Fit and eligible soldiers from both sides would be recruited into a new national army, although it had not yet been decided how large that army should be, rebel spokesman Amadou Kone said.

Another spokesman for the rebel New Forces, Antoine Beugre, said their fighters would meet the disarmament deadline so long as the government met its own commitments to disarm and disband its militias by Aug. 20 and to pass key laws.

"Before each stage there will be a technical meeting to assess political progress," Beugre told Reuters on Sunday.

The government's failure to disarm militias and pass key legal reforms agreed in a 2003 French-brokered deal have caused a series of setbacks and delays that have kept the world's top cocoa grower riven in two.

President Laurent Gbagbo pledged at a cabinet meeting last week to take steps to pass the laws by July 15 -- the date agreed at meetings in Pretoria organised by South African President Thabo Mbeki to revive a faltering peace process.

The new laws cover the creation of an independent electoral commission to run October's presidential elections as well as new nationality rules -- a divisive issue which has seen some government loyalists brand northern Muslims as foreigners.

Ivory Coast is split roughly in half with the rebels holding the north from the second city of Bouake and Gbagbo's government controlling the south from the main city Abidjan. A U.N. force of more than 6,000 troops patrols a buffer zone in the middle.

OPTIMISM

Beugre said the latest deal, which includes more precise details than previous vague agreements on disarmament, had been greeted with "great optimism" by rebel forces in Bouake and said New Forces political chief Guillaume Soro would return to the country "very soon" for the first time since February.

Saturday's deal provides for the training of 600 auxiliary police officers to ensure law and order in the north of the country during disarmament and in the run-up to the elections.

Gbagbo won the last presidential election in 2000 after army ruler Robert Guei's authorities barred the other main candidates from standing. Guei still tried to steal the election and only massive, violent street protests ensured Gbagbo came to power.

But after mounting tension between the mainly Christian south and largely Muslim north, rebels tried to topple Gbagbo in 2002, seizing the north of the country and sparking a civil war.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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