- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

PRETORIA, South Africa — Ivory Coast leaders agreed here yesterday to put an end to a 2-year civil war that divided their West African country and ruined what was once among the continent’s most prosperous and stable nations.

In an accord reached on the fourth day of talks, the five leaders took several steps to put the former French colony on the path to peace through disarmament, resolving a dispute over the eligibility of candidates for elections, and providing for the rebels’ return to a unity government.

“The Ivorian parties that are signatories to the Pretoria agreement hereby solemnly declare the immediate and final cessation of all hostilities and the end of the war throughout the national territory,” said the six-page agreement.

“In this regard, they unequivocally repudiate the use of force as a means to resolve differences among themselves,” it said.

The accord was signed by President Laurent Gbagbo; main opposition leader Alassane Ouattara; ex-president Henri Konan Bedie; Seydou Diarra, consensus prime minister of a government of national reconciliation; and rebel leader Guillaume Soro.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who shepherded the talks as the African Union’s chief mediator, emphasized the importance of the pledge to end hostilities, saying the sides had agreed “to say the war is over and to recommit [themselves] … to the peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

A key meeting between the head of the rebel forces controlling the north of Ivory Coast and the commander of the government troops is to take place April 14 at the rebel headquarters of Bouake to start the process of disarmament, the agreement said.

Mr. Mbeki said he will consult Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, chairman of the 53-nation African Union, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to make a ruling on a disputed constitutional provision stating that both parents of candidates to office must have been born in Ivory Coast.

The provision was used to bar Mr. Ouattara, an opposition candidate, from running in elections that Mr. Mbeki hopes can be held in October.

“I expect we will complete this matter within a week,” Mr. Mbeki said.

Asked if he thought this meant he could run for president in elections scheduled for October, Mr. Ouattara said: “It’s in President Mbeki’s hands.”

The Pretoria agreement also stipulates the return of the rebel New Forces to the national reconciliation government, disarmament of rebel and pro-government militias and the re-integration in the police and gendarmerie of 600 former rebel fighters.

It also outlined a revamped and independent national election body composed of members from all main political parties and the rebel New Forces.

Mr. Gbagbo, meanwhile, hailed Mr. Mbeki’s “humility and creativity” in helping forge a peace pact, and promised to “do all I can” so that elections are held in October. But he sounded a cautionary note on the law regarding presidential eligibility, which Mr. Mbeki said would be decided in a week.

“One has to take time so that we don’t make a mistake, given the different and divergent views on the matter,” Mr. Gbagbo said.

Ivory Coast, once a haven of stability in West Africa and the world’s top cocoa producer, has been split in two since a failed coup against Mr. Gbagbo in September 2002, pitting rebels from the Muslim-dominated north against the Christian-populated south.

A French-brokered peace agreement reached in 2003 lies in tatters, and both the government and the rebels have violated key provisions, such as a cease-fire, and refused to disarm.

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