Buffer zone dismantled. Reunification follows five years of civil war
It took just a little more than sixty minutes to put an end to five years of
civil war. Today, Ivory Coast is once again be a unified nation according to an
agreement reached last week among army representatives, members of the Forces
Nouvelles rebel group, French troops part of Operation Licorne, and United Nations
peacekeepers. Civil war has cost the lives of some 4,000 people, but soon the
buffer zone that separates rebel forces in the north from the government controlled
south will be a mere memory.
Terms of the agreement.
The peace process in Ivory Coast has been making huge strides since the Ouagadougou
peace accord was signed on March 4: first a joint committee was created to monitor
disarmament of rebel forces and government militias; then Guillaume Soro, head
of the Force Nouvelles, was named premier. The time has now come for withdrawal
of the 11,000 soldiers—French troops along with the UN peacekeepers—from the buffer
zone. The decision reached yesterday by the four generals carries enormous symbolic
weight. It will bring unity to a country that looked as though it might not survive
during the darkest days of the civil war.
Troop withdrawal. No deadline has been set for withdrawal of UN peacekeepers and French troops,
but their presence in the country will make little sense after the dissolution
of the buffer zone (particularly the UN peacekeepers). Just a few days ago, the
UN mission in Ivory Coast announced that no troop reduction was being considered,
but yesterday’s agreement will no doubt require a change of plans. The French
contingent is in a somewhat different situation, since their presence in Ivory
Coast is based on an agreement of military cooperation between Paris and Ivorian
authorities. While some reduction is possible, French air forces may need to stay
in the country to monitor the peace process, particularly during the early phases.
Yesterday’s agreement may very well lead to an improvement in diplomatic relations
between the two countries, which have been strained since the beginning of the
Guillaume Soro will address the nation this evening for the very first time
as its new premier. He will surely call for national unity and reconciliation
even though not all of the country’s problems have been solved. Despite the progress
of recent months, the future still holds serious challenges. The much debated
process of identifying the population has derailed all previous efforts to reach
an agreement, and elections—now set for next October—have already been put off
twice in the past two years. But the political will to resolve the crisis on the
part of Soro and President Laurent Gbagbo is a hopeful sign for the current peace
plan. Starting on Monday, Ivory Coast will once again be a true nation.