COTE D'IVOIRE: Washington delays UN deployment, Paris pushes DDR

Abidjan, 5 February 2004 (IRIN) - President Laurent Gbagbo said on Thursday that disarmament had to be the next step on the road to lasting peace in Cote d'Ivoire. However, bending to US pressure, the United Nations has delayed a decision on whether to send in a peacekeeping force that would give rebel forces the confidence to hand in their guns.

Gbagbo told reporters after a working lunch with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris that the need to disarm rebel forces, who still occupy the north of the country one year after the signing of a French-brokered peace agreement, was the main point of discussion.

"In Cote d’Ivoire we have reached a point which cannot be ignored, which is the issue of disarmament," the French news agency AFP quoted Gbagbo as saying. "We have made a lot of effort. Everything which follows depends on disarmament. President Chirac and I agreed on this,” the Ivorian president added.

A spokeswoman for Chirac said the French president had agreed that disarmament would be "a decisive element" in consolidating peace in Cote d'Ivoire. But she stressed that the peace agreement had to be implemented in its entirety, implying that it was not the only measure needed to move the peace process forward.

The summit set the seal on a reconciliation process between France and its former colony following a year of fraught relations. These reached a low point towards the end of last year with the killing of a French journalist by an Ivorian policemen and rowdy demonstrations outside the French military base in Abidjan urging the 4,000 French peacekeeping troops in Cote d'Ivoire to go home or disarm the rebels.

However, the situation eased as Cote d'Ivoire's faltering peace process gained fresh momentum in December. Gbagbo told reporters that he had left his meeting with Chirac "a happy and satisfied man."

Chirac and Gbagbo met 24 hours after the United States delayed approval of a UN plan, strongly supported by France, to send 6,240 UN peacekeeping troops to Cote d'Ivoire to supervise disarmament and enhance security during the run-up to fresh elections in 2005.

The UN Security Council merely agreed to extend the mandate of the small UN military liason mission in Cote d'Ivoire known as MINUCI until 27 February, when it will consider the issue further.

However, in a clear indication that approval for the dispatch of a UN peacekeeping force is likely soon, the Security Council ordered UN Secretary Kofi Annan to continue preparations for sending in a force within five weeks of the council giving the go-ahead for such a move.

A senior official at MINUCI in Abidjan told IRIN that John Negroponte, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, had delayed a Security Council vote on the sending of peacekeeping force to Cote d'Ivoire in order to allow the Bush administration more time to generate support for the move in Washington.

“They [The Americains] said the US needs time”, the diplomat said.

France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the United States had asked for the vote to be delayed in order to allow more time for “internal consultations.”

Diplomats in Abidjan are working on the basis that it will cost donors about US$ 111 million to disarm and rehabilitate an estimated 30,000 fighters in Cote d'Ivoire. The handing in of weaponry is expected to take four to six months once UN peacekeepers are on the ground.

The estimate of 30,000 combatants to be demobilised mainly covers fighters recruited by the rebels following the outbreak of civil war in September 2002. But it also includes several thousand extra soldiers drafted in to the government army.

However, diplomats recognise there is a serious risk that thousands of additional gunmen may drift across the border from Liberia to take advantage of the US$900 resettlement package being proposed.

This is is three times the $300 of offer to former combatants in Liberia's own Disarmament, Demomobilisation and Reintegration programme.

Assuming that the first UN peacekeepers arrive in Cote d'Ivoire April, disarmament is unlikely to get under way until the middle of the year by when most should be on the ground. The process was originally due to start in August 2003.

However, the government and rebels, which have respected a ceasefire for the past nine months, began a series of confidence building measures in December.

These included the removal of many road blocks, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the front line and the rounding up by each side of light weapons which were not in active use.

The ceasefire in Cote d'Ivoire is currently enforced by 4,000-French soldiers and some some 1,400 West African peacekeepers. The latter are expected to be integrated eventually into a UN force, but France has made clear that it would place its own forces under UN control.

Theme (s): Conflict,


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