Gbagbo set for historic visit to rebel town

ABIDJAN - President Laurent Gbagbo will be in Bouake, the headquarters of the former rebel New Forces (FN), today for the first time since a 2002 uprising aimed at toppling him divided Ivory Coast in half.

It was from Bouake that the northern half of this west African country was controlled by rebels for nearly five years.

Gbagbo, pictured, will preside over a highly symbolic disarmament and reconciliation ceremony, in a new boost to the peace process that reunited the country. A stockpile of weapons will be set alight to symbolise the official start of disarmament in the second largest city.

Dubbed the "Flame of Peace", the ceremony is also a celebration of the reconciliation that has taken hold following the latest peace deal brokered by neighbour Burkina Faso between Gbagbo and FN.

The new accord has gone further than earlier mediation attempts under ex-colonial power France, the UN, the African Union and a west African bloc. Nevertheless, a few remaining obstacles have slowed the application of the agreement. These include the reform of the army and voter registration ahead of elections, both of which were supposed to have started in April.

It was here, on June 29, that a plane carrying Guillaume Soro, the former leader of the FN rebels, came under attack as it came in to land.

Soro, who since April has been prime minister of the national unity government, survived the attack, but four of his aides were killed.

Following the attempt on Soro's life, government troops were put on maximum alert because of fears of renewed attacks. - Sapa-AFP