Advance team of ECOWAS force due in Cote d'Ivoire Friday

  Lagos- Nigeria (PANA) -- An advance team of 24 military personnel from five troop-contributing nations are due in Abidjan Friday to prepare for the deployment of the 1,500-strong ECOWAS peacekeeping mission to Cote d'Ivoire, wracked by political crisis since the 19 September mutiny by soldiers protesting plans to demobilise them.
   ECOWAS officials told PANA in Lagos Tuesday the advance team would prepare grounds for the full deployment of the force, authorised by ECOWAS leaders 26 October, to help monitor the cease-fire between the government and rebel soldiers, who now control half of the country.
   But lack of a force commander, inadequacy of troops and the need to conclude details of assistance offered by some ECOWAS partners have made it impossible to give a definite date for the deployment of the full force, expected to have been on ground within 10 days of authorisation.
   "We are still consulting on the appointment of a force Commander," ECOWAS officials said.
   Traditionally, the country contributing the most troops to a particular mission produces the force commander.
   However, Benin and Togo, which are contributing the highest number of 300 soldiers each, as well as Ghana (265), Senegal (250 soldiers, same as Niger) have all rejected overtures to nominate a force commander.
   The complication over the appointment of a military commander for the force apparently arose from the decision by Nigeria, the sub-regional powerhouse, not to contribute soldiers to the peacekeeping mission after initially pledging 776 troops.
   Efforts by ECOWAS officials to persuade Nigerian authorities have not yielded positive results, even though unconfirmed reports said Nigeria may be willing to contribute only a few support personnel to the force, which is still short by 135 soldiers.
   "We have not been formally contacted on that (contribution by Nigeria)," ECOWAS officials said.
   France has agreed to cater for 600 of the ECOWAS peacekeepers, Britain will take care of the Ghanaian contingent while the US has agreed to airlift the troops and provide equipment to the tune of two million dollars.
   Other partners, including Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, have also agreed to provide assistance for the peacekeeping force.
   France agreed last week to extend the cease-fire monitoring role of its estimated 1,000 soldiers by 15 days (ending about 20 November) to give enough time for the ECOWAS troops to deploy in Cote d'Ivoire.
   In addition to monitoring the cease-fire, the sub-regional force will also facilitate the resumption of public services, ensure the free movement of persons and goods in areas under rebel control as well as implement decisions relating to the disarmament of the insurgents.
   The mission will equally ensure the safety of insurgents and humanitarian agencies.
   Meanwhile, peace talks between the Ivorian government and the rebels are dragging in Lome, Togo.

12 november 2002 16:18:00

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