Ivory Coast rebels stick to their guns

Ivory Coast rebels on Monday said a peace deal to end the country’s five-month civil war was not negotiable and threatened to split the country in two if the accord was not implemented to their satisfaction.

As a summit of African leaders on how to apply the faltering peace deal got underway without them, the rebels warned the half of the country they control would secede if the accord was not applied in full.

“(President Laurent) Gbagbo clearly told the nation he doesn’t need us. He shouldn’t push us into organising autonomy for our zones,” said Guillaume Soro, secretary general of the largest rebel group, the Ivory Coast Patriotic Movement (MPCI).

The French-brokered peace accord—approved by the government, rebels and opposition at Marcoussis near Paris on January 24—provides for the creation of a power-sharing government. The rebels ignited widespread anger among Gbagbo’s supporters and the army when they said the peace deal promised them the key defence and interior ministries.

But when Gbagbo broke his two-week silence on the accord last Friday, he said he was yet to decide on the composition of the new power-sharing government.

“The MPCI has seven government posts.
The two main posts are (the ministries of) Defence and Interior. These are not negotiable,” Soro insisted on Monday from the rebel stronghold of Bouake.

In his speech to the nation last Friday, Gbagbo said he accepted the “spirit” of the peace pact but rejected any disarmament of government forces and the police—another issue that has ignited passions.

Soro responded on Monday by saying the rebels would not disarm unless loyalist forces also did.

“If Mr Gbagbo says the FANCI (Ivory Coast National Armed Forces) aren’t going to be disarmed, I assure my combatants they won’t be disarmed either,” he said. “The text of the Marcoussis agreement is clear—all the forces present have to be disarmed”.

The peace accord stipulates that the government will restructure the armed forces with the help of France, and supervise the regrouping and disarming of unauthorised units.

Soro urged France, Ivory Coast’s former colonial master, to implement the peace deal in full and to withdraw its troops from the ceasefire line.

He accused Gbagbo of playing for time so government forces could rearm and launch a new offensive against rebel positions.

“If he doesn’t need us, then we don’t need him,” Soro said of Gbagbo, warning of moves to secede. “They shouldn’t push us too far.”

Gbagbo said on Friday that 90% of Ivory Coast’s economic production and 82% of its population were in the area controlled by the government, which includes the crucial regional port city of Abidjan. - Sapa-AFP

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