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Ivory Coast Pres & PM Talk Before Rebel Area Visit

By Naomi Schwarz

Ivory Coast President, Prime Minister Talk Ahead of Rebel Areas Visit

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader-turned-Prime Minister Guillaume Soro have met in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou as part of efforts to reunite their divided country. Earlier in the week, the process hit a snag over the crucial issue of who will supervise the issuing of identity cards.

Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Compaore, was at the airport to welcome Ivory Coast's president and prime minister as they arrived Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Compaore brokered the peace talks that led to the Ouagadougou Accords the Ivorian leaders signed in March.

Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Soro have returned to Burkina Faso to hammer out further details in the peace process.

Early stages have included the creation of mobile courts to register people born in Ivory Coast but lacking official papers.

Gilles Yabi, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, says the next steps are absolutely crucial, and somewhat contentious.

"But very clearly now we are approaching the very key issues. The question of the mobile courts was just a very small step in the whole process," said Yabi. "Now we are talking about the process of identification, which will have electoral consequences because it will end up in a change in the list of electors in the whole country. So this is a very sensitive issue and it was clear that it will not be easy to find an agreement to push in this process."

The question of who gets an Ivorian ID card is central to the conflict. Rebels say they are fighting for millions of northerners who deserve Ivorian nationality. Supporters of Mr. Gbagbo say very few of them qualify.

Last week, disagreement about who would oversee the process of issuing ID cards led Mr. Gbagbo's ally, Interior Minister Desire Tagro, to walk out of talks. Tagro said his ministry has the authority to supervise the process, but Mr. Soro's camp says it is the prime minister's responsibility.

The Crisis Group's Yabi says such disagreements are expected and are not likely to derail the peace agreement. He says Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Soro's meeting in Ouagadougou is designed to reassure Ivorians the two are still working to find solutions.

And he says Mr. Gbagbo's planned visit to northern Ivory Coast is a powerful symbolic event.

"It will not mark an advance in the implementation of the Ouagadougou agreement, but it is just an additional sign of low tension in the country, and it can be important for the population of the north to see some concrete action, to see that there is the possibility for normalization of daily life," added Yabi.

This is the first time Mr. Gbagbo will penetrate so far into the country's north. His only other visit since the conflict erupted in 2002, was to rebel headquarters in the city of Bouake in July.

Some Ivorians are skeptical about the visit. One opposition newspaper ran the headline, "Seven Years of Terror, Three Days of Charm," saying a three-day visit cannot undo the harm caused by seven years of Mr. Gbagbo's presidency.

Opponents of the president say he is making the trip purely to gain political capital ahead of scheduled elections.

Mr. Gbagbo says he has many opponents because he has tried to expand the economy beyond traditional trading partners, like the former colonial power France.


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