BOUAKE, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - Ivory Coast began paying former rebel soldiers on Wednesday who disarmed ahead of elections set for next month, bringing the West African nation a step closer to ending years of crisis.
The New Forces rebels had long feared the government would renege on their promises to hand thousands of former rebel fighters payouts meant to help them adjust to civilian life, as agreed under a 2007 peace accord.
Karna Soro, head of the New Forces demobilisation program, told Reuters 400 rebels had received payments on Wednesday of $100,00 CFA francs ($200) each in Korogho town.
"There is a real feeling of joy for us," Soro said. "As soon as they are demobilized and they received their money, all will be calm. We are assured payments will not stop until complete, which will greatly reduce tensions."
The world's top cocoa grower has been half run by rebels since a botched 2002 coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo, but elections aiming to reunify the country and draw a line under the conflict are scheduled for October 31.
Around 4,000 in Korogho would receive cash in the coming days, Soro said. After that other regions would follow.
At the end of last month, the rebels said they had completed a program of temporary disarmament and gathering of their troops into barracks ahead of the polls, but they complained that the promised financing was not forthcoming.
The rebels estimate their numbers of demobilized troops at over 20,000, though some diplomats say they are fewer.
Some 5,000 of them are supposed to be incorporated into the national army, with others employed in various government projects, according to an agreement signed by the government, rebels and opposition.
Reporting by Charles Bamba; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Philippa Fletcher