President Laurent Gbagbo and New Forces rebel leader Guillaume Soro have signed a peace agreement for Côte d’Ivoire aimed at ending a more than four-year political impasse that has divided the country and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
“Peace is strongly possible in Côte d’Ivoire and the New Forces…are committed to implement the accord that has been signed in a spirit of peace and reconciliation,” said Soro after the agreement was signed on Sunday in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou.
Gbagbo said the accord was the definitive document for peace. “This is the accord for peace. It is peace through Africans and I am proud of it because all the problems in Africa can find a solution here on the continent,” he said.
The United Nations has backed previous peace plans for Côte d’Ivoire that have never been fully respected by either side in the conflict. After presidential elections were delayed twice - extending Gbagbo’s mandate by two years - the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1721 that effectively diminished his powers and boosted those of an interim prime minister, Charles Konan Banny.
Gbagbo responded to the resolution by saying that he was going to come up with his own peace plan. Sunday’s agreement came as a result of face-to-face talks with Soro that capped a month of negotiations in Ouagadougou between representatives of the two sides. The accord was brokered by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore.
“The most important thing in an agreement is its implementation, the goodwill of all parties to go forward,” said Abou Moussa, the interim UN representative in Côte d’Ivoire, after Sunday’s signing.
The crisis in Côte d’Ivoire has displaced an estimated 750,000 people. In addition, humanitarian agencies say health and sanitation in the north and west of the country have deteriorated considerably in recent years, and hundreds of thousands of children have gone without education.
France, Côte d’Ivoire’s former colonial ruler, welcomed Sunday’s accord and noted that the international community’s presence in Côte d’Ivoire would likely change.
“In light of the agreement’s potential consequences, there may be a change in the role of the international community as defined in various Security Council resolutions,” Radio France Internationale quoted Agnès Romatet-Espagne, deputy spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry, as saying.
Some 11,000 French and United Nations peacekeepers monitor a buffer zone between the rebel-held north and the government-run south. The country has been divided since a failed coup attempt triggered a brief civil war in 2002. The current mandate of the peacekeepers in Côte d’Ivoire expires on 30 June.
The new peace accord provides for replacing the buffer zone with a smaller area or “green line” that would be monitored by “impartial forces” installed at observation posts. The number of those posts would be halved every two months.
Olakounlé Gilles Yabi, Côte d’Ivoire researcher for the International Crisis Group, said the international community was unlikely to withdraw from Côte d’Ivoire in the short- to medium-term.
“Clearly the international community has prevented the crisis from escalating and having a more devastating impact on the country and the region,” he said. “It would be hard to imagine the international community being present for four years and then leaving just prior to what will likely be a very tense period surrounding presidential elections.”
The accord also provides for a new transitional government leading to elections at the end of the year, and for the identification of undocumented Ivorians to resume immediately. The process stalled last year as pro-Gbagbo militants took to the streets in the main city, Abidjan, and rebels failed to disarm.
Identity has been at the heart of the Ivorian crisis as thousands of people have no proof of citizenship. Political tension has played out through violence targeting perceived “foreigners” whom many Ivorians complain came to Côte d’Ivoire and took available land and work.
Also in the agreement, the two sides agreed to unify their armed forces and form an “integrated operational structure” run by an integrated command center that is to be set up by mid-March.
The government and rebels also pledged to adopt an amnesty law covering the period between 17 September 2000 until present. They also called on the UN to lift all sanctions imposed against individuals in the conflict, as well those banning the importation of weapons three months after elections are held. They urged “immediate special authorisation” to import light weapons for police operations under the supervision of the integrated command center.
A permanent consultative committee on the peace process is to be set up including Gbagbo, Soro, opposition politician Alassane Ouattara, former president Henri Konan Bedie and President Compaore.
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