15 April 2008

Cote d'Ivoire: Army Rejects UN Accusations of Arms Embargo Violations

Abidjan — The national army in Cote d'Ivoire has rejected an UN accusation that it is engaging in military training exercises which violates the conditions of a UN arms embargo.

"We are engaged in the peace process which is under way," a senior military official, on condition of anonymity because he was speaking without authorisation told IRIN on 14 April. "Permitting our men to receive military training would be like preparing for war, something which would be absolutely wrong."

An arms embargo was imposed on Cote d'Ivoire by the UN Security Council in 2004 shortly after a brief but deadly civil war which left the country divided between a rebel held north and a government controlled south with hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

In 2007, the war formally ended when the rebels and government signed a peace accord in Ouagadougou that laid out steps for the cantonment of troops, the return of displaced people and voter identification culminating in elections. Under the terms of the accord, full disarmament would only take place after the elections.

Although both sides have participated in arms decommissioning ceremonies, arms inspectors from the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (ONUCI) said they have been barred from visiting some bases controlled by the Forces Nouvelles rebels and a branch of the national army loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo known as the Republican Guard.

In a report published on 7 April, the UN's Group of Experts which report to the UN Security Council stated that the refusal of the Republican Guard to allow their facilities to be inspected had "seriously compromised" surveillance.

It also said that both the Defence Forces of Cote d'Ivoire (FDS-CI), which is also loyal to President Gbagbo, and the former rebel Forces Nouvelles had separately engaged in "training with military characteristics... outside of Cote d'Ivoire" and both sides were in violation of the embargo.

The UN Group said a major problem with the embargo was that Ivorian customs officials have allowed prohibited weapons and other materials to enter and leave the country.

Both sides use diamond mining to fund weapons purchases, the report of the Group stated. It recommended that representatives of the Kimberley Process, a system set up in 2003 to prevent rebel groups from profiting from diamond sales, be sent to the region to try to improve controls.

The army's rebuttal to the various accusations in the UN report came on the same day that the Ivorian government changed the terms of the Ouagadougou peace accord by announcing that elections would be held on 30 November 2008, rather than in June as stipulated in the accord, however the move was "welcomed" by ONUCI.

On 10 April, ONUCI also commended the Ivorian government for having made progress on voter identification. Almost half a million Ivorians have received new birth certificates after 7,400 public hearings in 11 provinces, ONUCI said in a statement.

The right to citizenship and its denial has been identified as one of the root causes of conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit Cote d'Ivoire during a mission to the region which starts on 20 April, the UN News Service reported on 11 April. Ban will also meet with the Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore who mediated the Ouagadougou peace accord.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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