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Last Updated: Monday, 30 July 2007, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Ivory Coast leaders burn weapons
Pile of weapons burning
But the former rebels have not yet started to disarm
Ivory Coast's president and prime minister have set fire to stockpiled weapons to symbolise the end of the country's five-year conflict.

It was the first time that President Laurent Gbagbo had gone to the former rebel-held north since 2002, when an uprising against him split the country.

"People of Ivory Coast, the war is over," he said in Bouake.

Mr Gbagbo signed a peace deal in March with ex-rebel leader Guillaume Soro, who was later named prime minister.

As part of the deal the pair agreed to hold elections, which have repeatedly been cancelled, by early 2008.

"As of today, we are preparing for elections. We must move fast, fast, fast to elections," Mr Gbagbo told the crowd in Bouake, the stronghold of Mr Soro's New forces movement.

Sketchy details

Mr Soro said: "By setting fire to these guns which were the seeds of destruction, we are marking the end of the war."

He added that Mr Gbagbo's visit to the New Forces base mean the country was reunited.

map

"Peace is here, peace is in Bouake," Mr Soro said, before telling Mr Gbagbo: "Your worthy presence in this way materialises the reunification of Ivory Coast."

BBC Ivory Coast correspondent James Copnall says the visit is extremely significant, but serious doubts remain about the peace process.

He says that only a few guns were burnt in the ceremony, and details of the disarmament are still sketchy.

'Flame of peace'

The visit comes just a month after rockets were fired at Mr Soro's plane as it landed at Bouake's airport, in what he said was an assassination attempt.

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo
President Gbagbo has declared Monday a public holiday

Security is tight and is being provided by both loyalist troops and ex-rebels, backed up by UN and French peacekeepers.

The president, who has declared Monday a public holiday, has invited leaders of other African nations including Burkina Faso, South Africa, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali, Senegal.

The "flame of peace" is then to be carried to all 19 regions of Ivory Coast to symbolise national reconciliation.

But on Sunday, riot police fired tear gas at supporters of Mr Gbagbo, known as the Young Patriots, who were protesting in the main city Abidjan at a shortage of coaches to take them to Bouake.

'Real progress'

New Forces rebels seized northern Ivory Coast in September 2002 and accused President Gbagbo of discriminating against northerners and Muslims.

Following the peace agreement in March, brokered in Burkina Faso, Mr Gbagbo appointed former rebel leader Guillaume Soro as prime minister.

A new government was formed, and an amnesty law created by presidential decree which covered almost all crimes committed by both belligerent parties.

Under the deal, a buffer zone patrolled by UN and French peacekeepers between the two forces has been dismantled.


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