Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast's Gbagbo passes key peace plan laws

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By Loucoumane Coulibaly and Peter Murphy

ABIDJAN, July 15 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo said on Friday he had used constitutional powers to pass laws agreed under a peace accord, meeting a key rebel demand ahead of disarmament and an October presidential election.

However, rebels who control the north reacted cautiously, saying they wanted to see the precise text of the laws.

In an address to the nation broadcast on Friday evening, Gbabgo said he had adopted laws on nationality, an independent electoral commission and other subjects as agreed under a 2003 French-brokered peace accord for the world's biggest cocoa producer.

"All these decisions, which have the force of law, take effect from this day, July 15, 2005," Gbagbo said.

The other bills passed related to the financing of political parties, citizenship rights, audiovisual communication and a national human rights commission, he said.

"Today nothing more stands in the way of disarmament, the reunification of the country and the organisation of general elections in 2005," he added.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, mandated as mediator by the African Union, set Friday as the deadline for the laws to be passed and wrote to Gbagbo this week urging him to use special constitutional powers to pass the laws to bypass the slower parliamentary route.

The rebels said they still had reservations, adding that they had wanted parliament to pass the laws.

"We're waiting to see what it's about before commenting," rebel spokesman Alain Lobognon told Reuters. "(We need to know) if they are valid, if they are really laws."

The rebels, known as the New Forces, wrote to Mbeki this week asking that the laws go through parliament instead of being passed by Gbagbo, Lobognon said.

RUNUP TO POLLS

Presidential elections are scheduled for Oct. 30 at the end of a disarmament and peace plan intended to reunite a nation divided since the rebels seized the north in a civil war after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Gbagbo in September 2002.

The U.N. Security Council threatened on July 6 that any party not meeting its commitments under the various peace deals, or obstructing their implementation, could face sanctions.

Some observers still doubt, however, that elections can be organised in the three-and-a-half months that remain.

Besides the new laws, the rebels have also demanded pro-government militias in the south of the country disarm before rebel forces do so under a timetable agreed last week.

Some of the laws had already passed through parliament late last year but, during talks hosted by Mbeki in South Africa in April, the laws passed by parliament were judged as not in keeping with the original 2003 peace deal.

Although both sides declared a ceasefire after the brief civil war, which caused thousands of deaths and uprooted more than a million, violence has continued to ebb and flow.

Last month, more than 100 people were massacred in villages on the outskirts of the cocoa town of Duekoue where longstanding disputes over land ownership rights have repeatedly boiled over into violence and killings, especially during the war.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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