March 27, 2007 / 11:16 AM / 12 years ago

Ivory Coast foes agree rebel leader for PM

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s government has agreed to name rebel leader Guillaume Soro as prime minister under a plan to reunite the world’s top cocoa grower, the rebels and foreign mediators said on Tuesday.

Ivorian rebel leader Guillaume Soro addresses a news conference in Bouake, central Ivory Coast, August 8, 2006. Ivory Coast's government has agreed to name Soro as prime minister under a plan to reunite the world's top cocoa grower, the rebels and foreign mediators said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

President Laurent Gbagbo said a new government could be in place as early as the weekend.

“By the end of the week, or the start of next week at the latest, we will have a new government,” Gbagbo said on state television late on Monday. “I can assure you the war is over.”

Gbagbo and Soro, leader of the New Forces rebels which hold the north of the country, signed a peace deal three weeks ago to reunite the West African country, divided since a brief 2002-03 civil war.

Their representatives agreed on March 4 at talks brokered by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore to name a new government by an April 8 deadline.

“The two parties ... call on President Laurent Gbagbo to issue a decree naming Guillaume Soro to this post,” a source close to the Burkinabe negotiators told Reuters, reading from the text of the agreement.

New Forces spokesman Alain Lobognon confirmed Soro’s nomination on the rebels’ Web site.

The former French colony has been split between a rebel-held north and government-run south since the war. A string of foreign-brokered peace deals has failed to reunite the country, previously a haven of stability in turbulent West Africa.

BANNY SNUBBED

Speculation had been rife that Soro would replace Charles Konan Banny, a banker appointed as prime minister under a previous U.N.-backed peace plan, in any new administration.

The rebel leader was quoted in an Ivorian newspaper on Monday as saying he was ready to become prime minister if asked to do so.

Banny told reporters in the Ivorian capital Yamoussoukro late on Monday that he had never seen his role as anything other than transitional. “I will not hesitate to sacrifice myself for Ivory Coast if circumstances demand and when the time comes ... I see myself as a missionary and I never imagined a mission could be forever.”

The latest peace agreement has already led to the creation of a joint army command center to focus on demobilizing militia fighters from both sides, raising hopes for reunification.

Analysts and some diplomats say it could meet with more success than previous accords because it is the first to be “home grown” — agreed on by Gbagbo and Soro directly and brokered by a neighbor trusted by both sides.

France said last week it would send home about 500 of its 3,500 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, who are supporting more than 7,000 U.N. troops policing a buffer zone between the rebel and government halves of the country.

Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly

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