COTE D'IVOIRE: Peace process moves ahead with talks on buffer zone

Friday, April 13, 2007
Cote d’Ivoire’s nascent peace plan moved closer towards changing the situation on the ground on Wednesday as the government, rival armed groups and international peacekeepers agreed a schedule to dismantle the country's buffer zone.

The demilitarised buffer, established in 2002 by the UN Security Council which ordered French troops and UN peacekeepers to separate fighting Ivorian army loyalists and rebels, has remained unmoved despite several previous deals to end the standoff.

The latest peace process started last month with an accord negotiated between the government of Present Laurent Gbagbo and the Forces Nouvelles rebels, signed in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou.

"Dismantling the buffer zone is expected to begin on 16 April at midnight. However, the process should not involve major upheaval on the ground. It will allow Ivorians across the country not be restricted while entering and leaving this zone", the United Nations force in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The accord specifies that 11,000 UN and French forces monitoring the area would be reduced by half every two months until their complete withdrawal.

They will be replaced by joint patrols of Ivorian army and former rebels, a model which was tried briefly but fizzled out without an official explaination why in western Cote d'Ivoire in 2005.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo announced on Wednesday that he would visit the northern region for the first time since 2002 before the end of the month to "burn the guns of war".

He will find the region markedly changed since he last visited as most public services including water, electricity, education and health facilities in the north ground to a halt after officials fled south when the country was divided.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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