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Mediators say Ivory Coast laws conform to peace plan

Côte d'Ivoire
Publication date

By Peter Murphy
ABIDJAN, Aug 8 (Reuters) - South African mediators in Ivory Coast have judged that laws adopted by the president last month conform to the provisions of a peace plan, despite objections from rebels, the South African ambassador said on Monday.

The rebels reacted by accusing the South Africans of bias towards the government and said they would from now on address their grievances to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"South Africa has economic interests in Ivory Coast which causes Ivorians to doubt its commitment to the Ivorian crisis," rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate told reporters in the rebel stronghold of Korhogo. "There is manifest bias," he said.

President Laurent Gbagbo invoked special constitutional powers to pass laws on nationality, citizenship rights and the composition of an independent electoral commission to break a deadlock in the country's peace process.

But rebels holding the north of the country missed a subsequent deadline to start disarming, saying the laws Gbagbo passed were skewed to ensure his victory in a presidential election due on Oct. 30.

A delegation sent by South African President Thabo Mbeki, the African Union's mediator in the crisis, said the laws were in line with a peace deal signed in Paris to end the civil war which erupted in 2002, according to South African ambassador Dumisani Gwadiso.

Asked whether the mediators had found the texts conformed to the peace plan, Gwadiso said "Yes", without any further comment.

Gbagbo said he was meeting a key rebel demand when he passed the laws on July 15. But the rebels' refusal to disarm so far has led many observers to question whether the elections can take place on time as mistrust lingers on both sides.

The rebels say the new laws do not give sufficient guarantees of citizenship rights for many of their supporters in the mainly Muslim north of the country, fearing they would end up being excluded from voting in the planned October polls.

Gbagbo's power base is in the largely Christian and animist south.

Gbagbo's spokesman, Desire Tagro, said the rebels, who had backed the South African mediators up to now, had to accept the ruling or face sanctions which all sides have agreed should be imposed on any party blocking the peace process. "We are waiting, not only for the other parties to meet their obligations, notably disarmament ... but for them to be sanctioned if they don't," Tagro said.

The war has left the world's top cocoa producer split in two. A string of peace deals has been signed by all sides, but disarmament deadlines have come and gone without any weapons being handed over and little concrete progress has been made towards the reunification of the country.

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