War-weary Ivorians hope latest peace deal is last

The people of Côte d’Ivoire expressed hope on Monday that a home-grown peace deal signed on the weekend would succeed where four years of international efforts to re-unite the war-divided West African state had failed.

President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro signed the deal on Sunday in neighbouring Burkina Faso after their representatives spent nearly a month discussing disarmament, Ivorian nationality and new elections.

Rebels seized the northern half of the world’s top cocoa grower in a 2002 to 2003 civil war, which erupted after they attempted to topple Gbagbo. A string of United Nations-mandated deals have failed as the foes bickered over how to implement them.

Though fighting during the civil war was brief, the former haven of peace in conflict-prone West Africa has seen poverty spread while the political crisis endures. The former French colony has been destabilised by frequent rioting and protests.

“It’s a joy.
If they accept to do what they have agreed to, everyone will win,” said Jean N’Degbe, a retired primary school teacher walking past a cluster of roadside vendors on his way through the Cocody suburb of the economic capital, Abidjan.

France, which has expressed its willingness to scale back its obligations in Côte d’Ivoire, also welcomed the deal.

But some diplomats greeted it with caution, saying with both sides benefiting from the status quo, it remained to be seen whether it would be implemented.

“It is encouraging that they have come to an agreement,” a United States diplomat said. “All kinds of things have been agreed to in the past but the problem has always been in the implementation.”

The deal foresees a new transitional government within five weeks and the relaunch of a stalled voter registration and identification process to enable elections within 10 months—slightly later than a UN imposed end-October deadline.

It also calls on the UN and French military, which have more than 11 000 peacekeepers in the country, to slowly withdraw their troops from the zone running across the country that keeps rebel and government forces apart.

The two forces are to partially merge before a new national army is formed.

“We’re optimistic and we hope this agreement will be applied for the happiness of Ivorians,” said secondary school teacher Moussa Kone in the rebel stronghold city of Bouake in the north.

“The two sides have finally understood that their combatants are no longer willing to fight,” he said.

Gbagbo, whose mandate officially expired in 2005 but has been twice-extended under UN-backed deals, has frequently denounced foreign meddling in Côte d’Ivoire in the past.

One pro-Gbagbo newspaper among the country’s fiercely partisan press hailed the deal, which resulted from the talks he initiated, as the start of “a new era”. Few opposition papers made any comment, merely presenting the content of the plan.—Reuters

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