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Peace efforts at standstill, deadlock over new prime minister

[Cote d'Ivoire] Nigerian Foreign Minister, Oluyemi Adeniji on a visit to Bouake flanked by Sidiki Konate and Guillaume Soro of the New Forces rebels. [Date picture taken: 11/17/2005]
Nigerian Foreign Minister, Oluyemi Adeniji on a visit to Bouake flanked by Sidiki Konate, left, and Guillaume Soro, right, of the New Forces rebels (IRIN)

A UN bid to get peace efforts back on track in war-divided Cote d’Ivoire are marking time after two weeks of feverish negotiations wound up this week with rebel leaders rejecting all names on a list of possible new prime ministers.

African Union chairman and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, working on behalf of the international community, has been trying to find a new prime minister acceptable to all parties to steer the country towards disarmament and elections within a year.

But at talks on Thursday, New Forces rebels threw out four names proposed by Nigerian mediators because their leader and favoured candidate, Guillaume Soro, had failed to make the shortlist.

“We are surprised that our candidate is no longer on the list,” rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate told IRIN. “We reject this procedure. They can’t exclude us. We are an important player.”

The appointment of a new head of government is key to resolving a three-year standoff between rebels who hold the north of the country, and the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, based in the southern half of the divided country.

A series of peace deals have produced a succession of missed deadlines, including a presidential election supposed to have taken place on 29 October.

When the poll had to be scrapped because disarmament had not taken place, the UN Security Council stepped in to recommend that Gbagbo remain in office another 12 months but hand over much of his power to a new prime minister, acceptable to all parties.

Rebel chief Soro, whose movement wanted Gbagbo removed at the end of his mandate last month, has repeatedly said that because his forces hold half the country, he or one of his deputies are the only acceptable candidates for prime minister if Gbagbo, the other belligerent, remains.

From an original list of 16 potential PMs, Obasanjo produced a shortlist of four. This was presented to Soro in the rebel headquarter town of Bouake by Nigerian envoy and Foreign Minister Oluyemi Adeniji, only to be flatly rejected.

But the rebels are not alone in grumbling about the Nigerian leader’s shortlist selection process.

“We don’t understand the procedure used in this second round of talks,” said Alassane Salif Ndiaye, secretary-general of the opposition party, the Union for Peace and Democracy in Cote d’Ivoire (UDPCI). “We don’t understand how the representatives of civil society can be among the favourite candidates.”

Although most parties told IRIN they had proposed high-profile political players, Obasanjo -- who diplomats say has a no-nonsense style of mediation -- has proposed mostly lesser-known names from civil society.

Banker Tiemoko Yade, who was put up for the prime ministership by the opposition Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party, has passed Obasanjo’s scrutiny, as has the Cote d’Ivoire Democratic Party (PDCI)-backed General Ouassenan Kone, a former minister allegedly linked to ethnic violence in the 1960s.

Discreet technocrat Coulibaly Gervais thought to be close to Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party, also made it to Obasanjo’s list of four, of whom, Gbagbo’s preferred candidate is thought to be former Justice Minister Jacqueline Oble, also of the FPI.

In the face of the rebel’s dissatisfaction, Adeniji told reporters in Bouake, that Soro’s name was still under consideration.

“Guillaume Soro is among the 16 people who have been proposed,” Adeniji said. “They can’t all be prime minister of the country. We need one person. We continue to work because there is not a final list. For the moment we have what is called in English a working paper.”

Negotiations are being hard fought, because under the terms of UN resolution 1633, the new prime minister is an extremely powerful figure with full authority over the cabinet and the military.

Yet widespread confusion remains over whether the new head of government should be appointed by Gbagbo or by a resolution from the international community, a main opposition party spokesman told IRIN on condition of anonymity.

“The resolution fails to specify a lot of things and we need to sort out these matters before it is too late,” he said.

“The rebels and the opposition don’t want Gbagbo to appoint the new prime minister and they’re trying to convince Obasanjo of that.”

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