Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-COTE D’IVOIRE: Belligerents to Hold Direct Talks

Noel Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Nov 5 2002 (IPS) - Representatives of army mutineers in Cote d’Ivoire will this week hold direct talks with the government in Lome, the Togolese capital, to discuss their political demands.

But, analysts fear that prolonged negotiations may be impossible since the rebels, who control northern half of the country, are threatening to resume fighting if their demands are not met.

‘’If our political demands are not met, we will resume fighting,” said Guillaume Soro, secretary general of the Patriotic Movement of Cote d’Ivoire, the rebels’ political wing.

Mediators reported ‘’progress” after three days of initial discussions last week, even though the two camps had stuck to their guns. The rebels had demanded the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo and the holding of fresh elections, while the government insisted that the mutineers lay down their arms before any concrete talks could take place.

For the rebels, the ‘’real talks” will begin this week. During the initial talks in Lome last week, both sides had pledged to work for peace in Cote d’Ivoire, which has been rocked by armed conflict since Sep 19.

The negotiations are taking place under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), coordinated by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema. ECOWAS has nominated Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Niger as contact groups to help Eyadema restore peace to Cote d’Ivoire.

By the end of the initial talks in Lome, which ended Friday, both the government and the rebels had committed themselves to setting free their prisoners of war. They also signed a statement to send humanitarian aid into areas controlled by the rebels.

‘’The government has committed itself to presenting to the National Assembly, an amnesty bill for the freeing of imprisoned soldiers and the halting of legal proceedings against those indicted of attacking state security,” said a statement issued by both sides. It also called for the return of exiled soldiers and their reintegration into the army.

The two sides also ordered their subordinates to refrain from acts of belligerence, such as ‘’extrajudicial executions, the recruitment and use of mercenaries, and the enrolment of children into the army”.

‘’We’ve addressed the core issues, but we’re not finished,” said Laurent Dona Fologo, the head of the government delegation. ‘’We still have to get details from these young men about their withdrawal from occupied zones. We have to get a firm commitment from them to lay down their arms.”

‘’With good will on all sides, I see no reason why this shouldn’t mark the beginning of a return to peace,” said Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the secretary general of ECOWAS, optimistically.

Eyadema says war is the last thing Ivorians need. ‘’The West African sub-region needs peace and stability,” he said. ‘’Weapons never solve problems. You get peace through negotiations.”

‘’We’re here to show our desire for peace and to do whatever is necessary to put Cote d’Ivoire resolutely on the path to democracy, freedom, equality and hospitality,” emphasised Soro.

‘’I will not return to Abidjan (the commercial capital of Cote d’Ivoire) without a peace deal,” said Fologo, the head of the government delegation.

Efforts have been made for the two delegations to rub shoulders constantly, even outside of the negotiating room. They are being lodged in the same hotel in central Lome, separated only by three floors. They ride in the same elevators. During last week’s negotiations, they even lunched together.

Both delegations’ leaders returned Saturday to Cote d’Ivoire to inform their followers of the initial negotiation results.

‘’We’re cautiously optimistic, we need to wait and see how things turn out,” said Chambas.

Monseigneur Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro, the Archbishop of Lome, noted that ‘’among armed groups, peace is always tenuous, only divine peace is certain’ ‘.

He expressed his desire for peace in Cote d’Ivoire, during a mass he celebrated only hours before the kick-off of the initial negotiations.

A previous meeting in Accra, Ghana, which took place on Sep 29, set up the contact group, while the other one held in Abidjan recently, designated President Eyadema as the coordinator of the talks.

The Sep 19 mutiny has unleashed a wave of xenophobia in Cote d’Ivoire, directed mainly against people from neighbouring Burkina Faso.

Cote d’Ivoire’s 16 million people include 2.2 million Burkinabe, 800,000 Malians and 230,000 Guineans, according to government statistics.

The anti-immigrant feelings in Cote d’Ivoire, once a bastion of stability in West Africa, began after the economic boom, which attracted millions of workers from poorer neighbours.

 
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Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-COTE D’IVOIRE: Belligerents to Hold Direct Talks

Noel Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Nov 5 2002 (IPS) - Representatives of army mutineers in Cote d’Ivoire will this week hold direct talks with the government in Lome, the Togolese capital, to discuss their political demands.
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