Page last updated at 08:52 GMT, Saturday, 3 May 2008 09:52 UK

Ivorian ex-rebels begin to disarm

By John James
BBC News, Bouake

Ex-combatants of the New Forces wait with demobilisation certificates at the office of the re-grouping camp in Bouake (2 May 2008 )
All New Forces soldiers are expected to disarm over the next few months

The former rebels in Ivory Coast who still control the northern half of the country have started to disarm with a ceremony involving 1,000 fighters.

After several false starts, the New Forces rebels say over the next five months all their soldiers will head to specially prepared sites to disarm.

They will then rejoin civilian life or join a new joint national army.

The conflict started in September 2002 when disgruntled soldiers took control of the north after a failed coup.

Cpl Nanu Djeniba was one of the first ex-fighters to receive her official certificate of disarmament, saying she was no longer part of the New Forces rebellion.

She said she was pleased the war was over.

"Everything that happened, it makes up our memories. The deaths of brothers and sisters - it's still something we dwell on long afterwards. These are the memories we'll keep.

"Now I'm preparing for the future - I'm going to go into commerce - I'm going to sell manioc with some other ex-combatants."

New phase

Cpl Djeniba has chosen to head back into civilian life with support to set up a business.

She will now hand in her weapon, receive disarmament payments of just over $200 (100) a month for the next three months, and enter a training programme for her new life.

Others have chosen other disarmament programmes, to volunteer for the new joint national army or to enter a "civil service" programme.

One of the New Forces political leaders, Sidiki Konate, said the ceremony marked the start of the "active phase" of disarmament.

"I think that we have a good programme. It will take more than four months to finish the disarmament. I think the disarmament will be effective before the elections in Ivory Coast."

Those elections are due on 30 November.

In the south, the government forces have already withdrawn to barracks, but the New Forces in the north have stayed in the field, saying the welcoming sites were not in a fit state to receive the fighters.


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