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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 April 2005, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Disarmament deal in Ivory Coast
Prime Minister Seydou Diarra (l) shakes hands with rebel New Forces chief of staff colonel Soumaila Bakayoko (r)
The rebels' return to the cabinet was seen as a positive step
Army and rebel commanders in Ivory Coast have agreed a provisional timetable for disarmament.

Full details are to be confirmed next month, but both sides will pull back heavy weapons from frontline areas from 21 April as a sign of goodwill.

The agreement came during talks in the rebel stronghold of Bouake.

The peace process was boosted on Friday when the rebels rejoined the country's power-sharing government for the first time in six months.

Getting the former rebels back into the government and agreeing a withdrawal schedule were key requirements of the Pretoria Accord signed earlier this month in the South African capital, Pretoria.

Under that deal, President Laurent Gbagbo's troops and rebel New Forces agreed to stop fighting, disarm militias and hold presidential elections in October.

But the key issue of the crisis remains unresolved, says the BBC's James Copnall in Abidjan.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has suggested that all major opposition leaders should be eligible to run for president in October's elections.

Mr Gbagbo has not yet announced whether he will accept Mr Mbeki's recommendation.

'War is finished'

According to the new statement signed by army chief Col Philippe Mangou and rebel forces chief of staff Col Soumaila Bakayoko, the disarmament should take place between 14 May and 31 July.

Further details are to be worked out at a meeting on 19 April and a conference beginning on 2 May.

"The war is finished," Col Mangou was quoted as saying after the meeting by the Associated Press news agency.

We are very satisfied
Lt Col Jules Yao Yao
Army spokesman

Rebel commander Wattao told Reuters news agency: "We had to talk for a long time to get something out of this. We are trusting each other more and more." Army spokesman Lt Col Jules Yao Yao said: "We are very satisfied."

Several previous deadlines for disarmament have been missed, our correspondent says.

The current crisis was triggered in November, when rebels pulled out of the cabinet after government forces attacked rebel-held towns, breaking a ceasefire.

Ivory Coast has been divided in two since late 2002, when the rebels from the mainly Muslim north launched an insurgency against the government dominated by Christian southerners. The rebels established control in northern Ivory Coast.

Some 10,000 French troops and UN peacekeepers currently patrol a no-weapons buffer zone which separates the rebels from the rest of the country.

A power-sharing government was set up in January 2003, but failed to end the mutual distrust between the two sides.




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