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The recent signing of the Pretoria Agreement on the Peace Process in Côte d’Ivoire under the mediation of South African President Thabo Mbeki represented a historic breakthrough in Côte d’Ivoire’s prospects for peace and stability, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference today.

Briefing correspondents on latest developments in the peace process, Côte d’Ivoire’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Philippe Djangone-Bi noted that the Pretoria Agreement was a remarkable evolution over previous agreements in that it comprised specific commitments -– with a chronology for each stage –- which the signatories had agreed to respect.  The meeting on 14 April to begin the disarmament process was key in that regard.  Also according to the agreement, President Mbeki was the sole resort should there be any problem of interpretation.  That was an unheard-of breakthrough and it should be properly acknowledged.

Appointed mediator by the African Union in November 2004, President Mbeki’s personal approach had resulted in a spectacular breakthrough with the Agreement, he said.  President Gbagbo also deserved commendation for his willingness to meet with opposition leaders, as well as for the sacrifices he continued to make for the cause of peace and democracy.

Unfortunately, “birds of ill omen” had already said that the Agreement would yield no positive result, he said.  The Pretoria Agreement must be strongly supported.  Peace must be given a chance.  The Agreement was a testimony to President Mbeki’s strong understanding of the history, culture and values of the Ivorian people.  It also bore the marks of the African soul, which confronted problems with patience, dialogue and profound respect for the interlocutor.

Outlining the Agreement’s main points, he noted that the signatories had proclaimed the immediate and final cessation of all the hostilities and the end of the war.  The New Forces and the National Armed Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FANCI) would meet on 14 April in Bouake to start the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process in the presence of the Prime Minister.  The mediation had proposed a security plan accepted by all the parties, so that the Ministers from the New Forces had accepted to return to the Government of National Reconciliation. 

Regarding the Independent Electoral Committee, amendments would be introduced by the National Assembly, in order to obtain a better representation of the parties on the various bodies, including the Central Commission, he continued.  Concerning eligibility to the country’s presidency, the mediator would make a determination on the matter after consultation with the President of the African Union, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango, and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  Should there be any difference in interpretation of the Agreement, the parties agreed to consult the mediator for a ruling. 

The international community should encourage the unconditional implementation of the Pretoria Agreement, he said.  He thanked all those who had accompanied Côte d’Ivoire on the long road to peace, from the signing of the first peace agreement in October 2002 to the present.  He hoped that the exemplary cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union would continue in the wake of such a diplomatic success.

While you say the agreement was revolutionary and went far beyond the other agreements, it contained no mention of a date for completing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, a correspondent said.  It also seemed like there had been no movement in Pretoria on the issue of article 35 of the Constitution.

Responding, he said the resolutions taken in the agreement were sound and contained the seeds of possible peace.  That was why the Agreement must be given a chance to succeed.  The Agreement did contain the date for beginning the demobilization process.  The process should be completed, under the auspices of President Mbeki, according to the timetable set out in a prior settlement.  The Agreement built upon the previous agreement.  Disarmament would start on 14 April, and using the timetable provided by previous agreement, the duration of the process could be calculated.  The faster it happened, the better.

On article 35, he added that the signatories had agreed that President Mbeki would make a determination in that regard in a few days, hopefully resolving the complicated situation.

Would everybody stand by the decision of the mediator, President Obasango and the Secretary-General? a correspondent asked.  Looking at the Pretoria Agreement, that was the case, he said.  Indeed, they would comply.

The mandate for the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire ended in the beginning of May.  How concerned would he be if the Security Council tightened sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire at the time of the mandate renewal? a correspondent asked.

He said he was most interested in giving the Agreement a chance to succeed.  All speculations must be put aside.  President Mbeki had come through with a breakthrough agreement.  “Let us wait and see.”

Asked what he thought would happen on 4 May when the Council was expected to next take up the issue, he said the Council would have had nearly one month of developments to look at in order to make an assessment of the situation.  One could not predict what kind of decision they would make.

Previous commitments to resolve the controversy over article 35 had failed, a correspondent said.  Was President Gbagbo’s Government committed to accepting President Mbeki’s determination over and above the authority of the Côte d’Ivoire Constitution? 

The signatories had accepted that President Mbeki would make a determination after consulting with the Secretary-General and the African Union, he said.  If there was a problem of interpretation, the parties would turn to the mediator.

Asked if President Mbeki had already met with President Obasango and the Secretary-General, he said he could only presume so.  If there was a difference in interpretation on any part of the Agreement, the signatories had agreed to consult with the mediators for a ruling.

Asked whether the Government of Côte d’Ivoire would be present on the day the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process began, he said the Prime Minister and the national defence and security forces would be present on 14 April in Bouake.  He hoped the rebels would also be there.  He was hopeful. 

Asked to comment on a recent incident involving shooting at the United Nations premises, he said he had no further information on the incident.  It was important to remember that Côte d’Ivoire was experiencing a civil war.  Such incidents were understandable, especially at the current critical juncture when people would be asked to disarm.  It was also important, however, to remain optimistic.  Generally speaking, he believed there would be peace and that the people would abide by the agreement.

If the citizenship laws were implemented, how much of a problem would it create for the country with millions of people becoming Ivorian? a correspondent asked.  Those people had been living in the country as non-Ivorians, benefiting from all of the country’s services.  Everybody had access to services.  There would be, therefore, no added pressure.

Asked if they would be allowed to participate in a referendum, he said the naturalization law would have to be consulted.  Depending on the criteria used, it might be months or years before one would be allowed to vote.  He did not have such technical information.

Asked to define the criteria, he said the law in that regard already existed.  Côte d’Ivoire was not a failed State.  There were laws governing such situations, and all would abide by the existing law.

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For information media. Not an official record.