A tentative peace breaks out in war-torn Ivory Coast

A homegrown peace agreement this spring has led to a softening of rhetoric on all sides.

Perhaps best known for fomenting political violence on the streets of Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, members of the pro-government Young Patriots group now sport T-shirts with slogans such as "Ivory Coast is back" and "Take my hand, caravan of peace."

It's the latest sign that peace is breaking out in this war-torn West African country.

Gone is the United Nations-protected buffer zone that until recently divided the country's government-controlled south from the rebel-held north.

Rebel leader Guillaume Soro is now the interim prime minister serving under President Laurent Gbagbo, whom his forces have fought to oust since 2002.

Mr. Gbagbo's loyalists are now less eager to label Mr. Soro and the New Forces rebels as armed bandits, while Soro's staff no longer call the president and his government warmongers.

Even a late June assassination attempt against Soro in his central stronghold of Bouaké – his plane came under rocket attack after landing – has not stopped the peace process.

"It's because we are fighting for the Ivorian people, not for Guillaume Soro only," says Siratigus Konaté, a spokesman in the prime minister's office.

Credit for this shift belongs in large part to a peace agreement signed in March under the mediation of Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Compaoré.

Though the United Nations has tried to reunite Ivory Coast since 2004, this new agreement marked the first time the government and the rebels signed a deal made for Ivorians by Ivorians.

They compromised on how to resolve the conflict's most contentious issues: disarmament of rebel and loyalist militias and identification for millions of undocumented Ivorians, both prerequisites to an election, which is a key rebel demand.

Among loyalists and rebels, the agreement has created hope that it can restore the stability and prosperity once associated with Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer.

"Is there any alternative? I can't find it," Appia Kabran, vice-president of Gbagbo's National Congress of Resistance for Democracy, says. "The alternative would be to go to war again."

Ivorians have seen the emergence and failure of more than a dozen peace deals since their country's downward spiral, which includes a coup in 1999 and the subsequent outbreak of civil war.

Gilles Yabi, West Africa analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says the government and the rebels reached a compromise so they could safeguard their interests.

"Gbagbo's objective is to keep the power by winning a second term, while Soro's objective, after the failure to topple Gbagbo and also the failure to get the international community to neutralize him, is now to find a way out of the crisis which could preserve his political future."

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