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COTE D'IVOIRE: New government announced after weeks of haggling

Abidjan, 29 December 2005 (IRIN) - After weeks of negotiations war-torn Cote d’Ivoire’s new prime minister has formed a transitional government that has 10 months to reunite the country, disarm fighters and hold presidential elections.

Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny late Wednesday announced his trimmed 32-member cabinet, which brings together representatives of the ruling party, the rebels and the political opposition.

“I wanted Ivorians to recognise themselves in this government,” Banny told reporters after the presentation of the cabinet.

“This government has an important and fundamental mission. We have to remove all weapons from our territory, we have to reunify the country, we have to identify the population…We have to learn to solve our own problems.”

Warring parties have failed to deliver on key targets laid out in the three-year-old Marcoussis peace deal, including disarmament of rebel and pro-government militias and resolving the sensitive issue of who is entitled to citizenship. Elections scheduled for 30 October had to be cancelled.

A succession of international mediators have blamed the intransigence of the rival factions, saying they have displayed a lack of political will to end the ‘no war no peace’ stand-off. The country remains divided between a rebel-held north and government-controlled south.

Banny has created a new position for rebel leader Guillaume Soro, named minister for reconstruction and reinsertion. It is the second highest position in the cabinet after the prime minister.

Soro’s remit is likely to include disarmament and the redeployment of government administration in rebel-held territories, according to analysts.

Soro had previously demanded the prime minister’s job, but rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate told IRIN the rebels –- known as New Forces –- are content with the compromise.

“The government is a fact and we have no problem with it, so now we have to wait and see how it is going to work,” Konate said.

It has taken Banny over three weeks since being sworn in as prime minister to draw up his team. The delay, according to government insiders, was due largely to President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to give up the finance ministry.

Previously, Gbagbo ally Antoine Bohoun Bouabre held the finance portfolio, but in the new line up Banny –- former head of the West African regional bank BCEAO –- will take the job though the day-to-day running of the ministry will fall to Charles Koffi Diby, a former director of the national treasury.

Instead, Bouabre takes the senior cabinet post of state minister of planning and development.

Other key portfolios have been wrestled away from the main Marcoussis signatories going to little-known technocrats and close allies of Banny.

Defence, and so control of the Ivorian army, will go to magistrate Rene Kouassi Aphing. The interior ministry goes to police chief Joseph Ble Dja.

With nine fewer members than Cote d’Ivoire’s previous government of national reconciliation, the new formation meant that all parties had to relinquish one or more posts.

The main opposition Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party and Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI) now have five ministries each. Seven posts were allocated to the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and six to the New Forces rebels.

Independents and civil society signatories to Marcoussis rounded out the government.

While Gbagbo approved the new cabinet by presidential decree, some ruling party supporters were unhappy with the way the seats were divided. Hundreds of youths took to the streets of Abidjan’s Yopougon suburb on Wednesday to express their dismay, some blocking roadways with burning tyres.

Army Chief of Staff Colonel Philippe Mangou and Charles Ble Goude, leader of the pro-FPI militants known as ‘young patriots,’ appeared on state television to appeal for calm.

Armed forces whizzed to the scene to disperse crowds.

Earlier this year when it became clear the October elections would not take place, the UN extended Gbagbo’s mandate for 12 months with a special resolution beefing up the powers of the prime minister, on whose shoulders falls the main task of restoring the one-time beacon of stability to peace.

Banny, with his cabinet, has everything to do if elections are to take place before the new October 2006 deadline, when the mandate for transitional government expires.

Analysts welcomed Banny’s cabinet as potentially workable solution, but warned that the 10-month time frame may prove too tight.

“The new cabinet is a good reflection of the power balance in Cote d’Ivoire,” political analyst Hamed N’Cho said. “The way the seats are shared out should make it possible for everyone involved to begin resolving the crisis.”

“[But] we have only ten months to go. Perhaps one should already think about prolonging the transition.”

Theme (s): Conflict, Economy, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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