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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 May 2007, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
Ivorian militias start to disarm
By James Copnall
BBC, Ivory Coast

President Laurent Gbagbo holds two weapons at a disarmament ceremony in Ivory Coast
Laurent Gbagbo oversaw a disarmament ceremony
Militia groups have started to disarm in Ivory Coast, in accordance with the terms of the country's peace deal.

The militias, which support President Laurent Gbagbo, are due to be disbanded under the agreement.

Ivory Coast has been split in half by civil war since September, 2002, but there is renewed optimism in the country that the crisis may be ending.

More than 1,000 weapons were symbolically handed over in a ceremony attended by President Gbagbo.

The militia groups supported the president against the New Forces rebels, often fighting alongside the regular army.

UN peacekeepers will look after the weapons the militiamen turned in - many of which were extremely old.

Doubts remain

Disbanding the militias has been one of the major concerns in Ivory Coast in the last few years. The process has started several times, only to flounder.

The militias claim to have large numbers of fighters who should each receive money for giving up their arms. The exact number of militiamen is difficult to establish.

Many observers doubt whether all the fighters will give up their weapons this time round, but getting rid of the militias is a key step in the peace process.

Last month a UN-patrolled barrier zone between President Gbagbo's troops and the New Forces rebels was removed.

The rebel chief Guillaume Soro was also named prime minister, something that would have been inconceivable just six months ago.

But many Ivorians doubt whether the old enemies, President Gbagbo and Mr Soro, are really the men to unite the country.


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