- Title: IVORY COAST: Ivorian ex-rebels start disarming ahead of polls
- Date: 5th May 2008
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (French) DEMOBILISED SOLDIER, DIOMANDE LANCINA, SAYING: "We joined the rebels as volunteers but today we can say we are real soldiers because we know all the military systems. If they don't manage to reintegrate us, it will not be good. It will not help rebuild Ivory Coast because it will create a lot of problems afterwards."
- Embargoed: 20th May 2008 13:00
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz
- Reuters ID: LVABAS9QW2EK4ZRTO2FPLHGFXU5F
- Story Text: More than 1,000 former rebels in Ivory Coast have joined the disarmament process aimed at reuniting the country.
More than 1,000 former rebels in Ivory Coast joined a disarmament process on Friday aimed at reuniting a country split in two by a civil war in time for long-delayed elections due on Nov. 30.
Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower and one of West Africa's biggest economies, has been divided into a rebel north and government-controlled south since a failed coup in September 2002 triggered the brief war that lasted into 2003.
After years of delay, a 2007 peace pact between the government and rebels opened the way for elections.
At a barracks in Bouake, Ivory Coast's second city and the rebel headquarters, the more than 1,000 ex-fighters from the rebel New Forces stood unarmed and at attention and sang the national anthem before the orange, white and green Ivorian flag.
The men, mostly carrying their possessions in civilian rucksacks and many in civilian clothes, each got a disarmament bonus of 90,000 CFA francs (210 US dollars). A similar ceremony took place in the northern town of Seguela, officials said.
"This first step that has been taken by the army, in front of the Ivorian people and the world, should be irreversible and should mark the end of mistrust, hesitation and retrogressive steps that we have observed here and there since the end of the crisis," said Amani Michel, Ivory Coast defence minister Previous attempts to kick-start disarmament have floundered, but the latest peace drive has torn down barriers between the two sides, giving hope to donors who unblocked 27 million euros (42 million US dollars) in aid last month to help fund the elections.
However, most analysts say organising credible elections by November will be a major challenge, and some details still had to be worked out even for Friday's disarmament process.
"This paper in my hand, I see it as a victory for me. Because we started all this on September 19, 2002 and there are some who will not get it, some died and some are sick in hospital and we are praying for them. Today, with my certificate in hand, I can see that peace is back in Ivory Coast and peace found me in good shape," said Diomande Lancina, a New Forces soldier in Bouake.
Officials say it will take five months to demobilise the 26,000 New Forces ex-combatants. Government soldiers and militia fighters will also go through the same process.
Some 5,000 former rebel fighters are to be integrated into a new national army and the rest trained up as builders, tailors, farmers or in other civilian professions.
"Today I have decided to come to the demobilisation centre in order to do something better for my children's future. I have decided to cultivate, whether yam, rice, corn and cassava roots. Then maybe I will do some stockbreeding, buy some beef and give them to my children so that when I am not anymore, they will be able to take care of themselves," said Ibrahima Ouattara as he was collecting his allowance.
Ivory Coast was long seen as the jewel among France's former colonial possessions in Africa, becoming relatively wealthy in the decades following independence in 1960 as peasant farmers, many from neighbouring states, planted lucrative fields of cocoa, coffee and other crops for export.
But it tottered in the late 1990s amid growing ethnic tensions fuelled by huge immigration from nearby countries, leading to a series of coups and army mutinies culminating in the civil war.
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