Talks to agree a disarmament timetable to end Cote d’Ivoire’s three-year civil war were continuing on Friday evening after two days of efforts to reach agreement.
As dusk fell over the official capital of the world’s top cocoa producer, officials said the two sides in the conflict - rebels who hold the north and government forces who control the south - were still fine-tuning a deal.
Meanwhile President Laurent Gbagbo took steps to ease the peace process by pledging on Thursday to push through legislative reforms as agreed at a peace summit last month.
A statement issued after a weekly cabinet meeting quoted Gbagbo as promising “that by July 15 he would take the necessary measures to pass laws that must be adopted in order to end the crisis.”
Previous efforts to disarm Cote d’Ivoire’s foes have collapsed because of failure to adopt political reforms or because of sporadic violence.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour on Friday travelled to the volatile west of the country where more than 100 people were hacked, shot or burned to death in tit-for-tat ethnic violence last month.
Thursday's cabinet statement said that Gbagbo is sending 800 extra troops to the region, which he has placed under military rule. It said he would also boost the security presence in the main city Abidjan with 1,700 men tasked with improving law-and-order.
Earlier this week, the UN Security Council warned the leaders of both sides in the conflict they would face individual UN Security Council sanctions should they fail to meet new deadlines for the completion of disarmament over the next six weeks.
A November 2004 Security Council resolution threatens travel bans and asset freezes against individuals blocking the peace process.
Under the terms of the latest peace agreement, reached in Pretoria, South Africa, on 29 June, rebel and army chiefs were to finalise on 7 July the details of a timeline to disarm 42,000 rebels who control northern Cote d’Ivoire.
The Pretoria agreement, brokered by African Union mediator and South African President Thabo Mbeki, demanded that the rebels start handing in weapons to UN peacekeepers at special cantonment sites in the north by the end of July.
It also called for pro-government militias operating in the loyalist south to begin disarming immediately and complete the process by 20 August. However, there have been no moves so far make the various armed groups controlling several thousand militiamen hand in their guns.
Disarmament must be completed before the country, once held up as a beacon of prosperity in West Africa, can reunify and hold presidential elections.
The polls are planned for 30 October, but work on drawing up an electoral register has barely started and diplomats have been warning for months that it will be difficult to organise credible elections in such a short timeframe.
The civil war erupted in September 2002 and although a peace deal was agreed in principle four months later, international efforts to shepherd the divided West African nation towards peace have snagged repeatedly on the issue of disarmament.
The Pretoria Two accord is only the latest in a string of attempts to put Cote d'Ivoire's flagging peace process back on track.
Officials attending the talks in Yamoussoukro said the military chiefs, flanked by members of the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI), were also discussing ways of tightening security in the main southern city of Abidjan for rebel members of the country’s government of national reconciliation.
Rebel ministers have failed to turn up at cabinet meetings in Abidjan since last October citing fears for their safety.
Opposition politicians and members of the New Forces rebel movement hold half of the portfolios in the government chaired by independent Prime Minister Seydou Diarra.