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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 05:24 GMT 06:24 UK
Ivorian identity hearings begin
By James Copnall
BBC News, Abidjan

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo
President Laurent Gbagbo has promised new elections
A controversial programme has begun to give Ivory Coast identification papers to the hundreds of thousands of Ivorians who do not have them.

The public identity hearings are a key step towards free and fair elections, but have been violently blocked.

Elections are seen as a way out of a crisis that began five years ago when rebels seized the country's north.

Northerners say they have been discriminated against and in many cases denied Ivorian nationality.

Identity is a controversial issue in Ivory Coast, and one that is at the heart of the country's recent troubles.

Rebels known as the New Forces, who control the north of the country, claim they took up arms to remedy this.

But supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo are worried that large numbers of foreigners will be given Ivorian nationality fraudulently.

Fraud fears

The hearings are a tentative step towards sorting out the problem - a prelude to establishing electoral lists.

The hearings began just over one year ago, but they were stopped almost immediately after violent clashes between rival political groups resulted in several deaths.

The country is less tense now, but what form the identification programme should take is still a matter of debate.

Mr Gbagbo says it should be limited, claiming the electoral lists used in 2000 only need minor changes.

His political and military opponents say millions of Ivorians either do not have citizenship or have been denied it, and the electoral lists must be completely redone.

Either way, it is clear that Ivory Coast's problems will not be fixed until the issue of who is Ivorian is satisfactorily resolved.


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