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Row erupts over ID cards in new blow to peace

[Cote d'Ivoire] Charles Konan Banny former governor of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), now interim prime minister by African Union appointment. [Date picture taken: 12/05/2005]
Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny (above) is wrestling for power with President Laurent Gbagbo (BCEAO)

A dispute this week over plans to hand out ID cards to millions of undocumented residents of war-divided Cote d’Ivoire threatens to further disrupt the country’s faltering peace process.

With more than one out of five Ivorians without identification papers, a nationwide scheme is currently underway to determine who among Cote d'Ivoire's 16 million people has Ivorian nationality and thus voting privileges in peace-sealing elections that have been scheduled for 31 October.

But President Laurent Gbagbo this week suddenly replaced the magistrates carrying out the nationwide nationality hearings. His loyalist army controls the southern half of the country, which was split in two almost four years ago following a failed coup.

Justice Minister Mamadou Kone subsequently recalled all magistrates deployed across the country for meetings on the hearings process.

The moves are likely to cause further delays in a United Nations peace blueprint for the West African nation.

The nationality hearings began last month in both rebel and government territory but were stopped in several towns in the south after Gbagbo supporters violently disrupted the hearings. They said the rebel side was handing out papers in order to stack the forthcoming elections. Identity cards will entitle people to vote.

The question of national identity was at the heart of the conflict that began in September 2002 as many of those without papers are from the north. Many rebel fighters say they will only hand over weapons in exchange for a national identity card.

Gbagbo said this week that magistrates conducting the hearings did not have the constitutional authority to deliver nationality certificates. Permanent papers could only be handed out by local courts, he said.

Stepping into the fray, interim Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny told the press on Thursday that the identification process would not be halted.

“I will personally and scrupulously see to it that no one is unfairly deprived of this document,” Banny said. “The nationality certificate will be handed out.”

Under the scheme, public hearings are currently being held in nearly 25 towns, most of them in rebel territory, with scores of Ivorians and immigrants passing before a judge in hopes of proving they have a right to Ivorian ID papers.

Responding to the president’s nationally televised address last Sunday, rebel leader Guillaume Soro said the rebel side was pulling out of disarmament talks in protest against Gbagbo position on the identity scheme.

“You can’t change the rules during the match,” Soro said. “For the New Forces (rebel movement) a new phase has begun. For the New Forces the recess is over.”

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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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