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Peace advocates join together to avert civil war

Civil society groups in Cote d'Ivoire have come together to avert civil war with the support of the international community.

The Collectif de la Societe Civile pour la Paix (Civil Society Collective for Peace), inaugurated on Tuesday, plans to "conduct a vaste campaign of sensitization, throughout the national territory, to prevent and curb ethnic or religious conflicts", the group said in a peace declaration.

Hundreds of people have died, material damage has been considerable and the economy has slowed significantly as a result of the worst socio-political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire's history, the Collectif noted. It warned, however, things could get much worse "if nothing decisive is done now to stop the beginnings of ethnic or religious clashes observed in certain areas of the country". Lessons could be learnt, in this regard, "from the unfortunate example" of other African countries such as Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia, the group said.

A rebel war in Cote d'Ivoire broke out on 19 September, when a force including former members of the Ivorian military failed in bid to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo but took over the towns of Bouake and Korhogo in the centre and north of the country respectively. A ceasefire agreement signed by the insurgents and mediators from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) entered into effect on 17 October, paving the way for talks last week in Abidjan between Ivorian and ECOWAS officials followed by negotiations this week in Lome, Togo, between the rebels and representatives of the state.

The rebels' representives at the talks, which were scheduled to start on Wednesday, included the secretary-general of their political arm, former student leader Soro Guillaume, along with Tuo Fozie and Cherif Ousmane, two of the rebels’ most visible commanders. A senior military official, Col Michel Gueu, was also reported to be on the rebel delegation.

The state will be represented by a team led by the chairman of the government’s Economic and Social Council, Laurent Dona Fologo. The delegation also includes officials of all parties represented in Gbagbo's coalition government, along with the National Assembly armed forces, gendarmerie, police, and civil society.

Addressing the team on Monday before its departure for the Togolese capital, Gbagbo explained the state's preconditions for negotiations. "You represent the entire people of Cote d'Ivoire," he said "tell them what Cote d'Ivoire is saying ... The assailants must lay down their weapons. We want the integrity of our territory to be respected. We want our sovereignty to be respected. Then, and only then, everything can be discussed, everything can be negotiated."

Pending the cessation of fighting between the two sides, civil society aims to prevent an even deeper rift from developing in the society. War between armies, whatever the atrocities committed, can eventually be controlled, but a civil war between ethnic and religious groups is uncontrollable and its sequels remain engrained in people's psyches, said the spokesman of the Collectif, Honore Guie.

The Collectif includes the local chapters of two international organisations that promote democracy - the Groupe d'etude et de recherche sur la Democratie et le Developpement social en Afrique (GERDDES-CI) and Association internationale pour la democratie (AID-CI). Its other members are religious leaders representing Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, and the country's two main human rights organisations, the Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l'homme (LIDHO) and Movement ivoirien des droits de l'homme (MIDH).

According to its spokesman, Honore Guie, it will send delegations comprising six persons - one Christian and one Muslim priest along with a representative each from LIDHO, MIDH, GERDDES-CI and AID-CI to various parts of Cote d'Ivoire, starting with areas under government control. Each team will hold separate sensitisation meetings with the administrative authorities of the area, chiefs of ethnic and religious communities followed by general meetings in which elected local representatives will also take part. A follow-up committee made up of community representatives would then pursue the sensitisation with a view to avoiding any ethnic or religious conflicts.

The committee is being supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), European Commission, Canada and Belgium. Speaking on their behalf, UNDP Resident Representative Mostafa Benlamlih said they were happy to back the initiative since "above and beyond the political solutions, real peace will be built within communities and individuals".

"While contacts are being pursued for a peaceful solution of the crisis, your effort will create the conditions for lasting peace," he said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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