UN wants probe of arms sent to Ivory Coast rebels

Source: Reuters

* UN expert panel demands investigation by Burkina Faso * Arms sent from Burkina Faso to Ivory Coast rebel zone * Israel, Lebanon, others urged to act on illegal diamonds (Adds details from UN experts’ report, paragraphs 5-7) By Louis Charbonneau UNITED NATIONS, Oct 27 (Reuters) – A U.N. panel of experts has demanded that Burkina Faso investigate “systematic” weapons transfers to the rebel-controlled northern part of the neighboring West African state of Ivory Coast. In a report to the U.N. Security Council obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, the panel also called on the Ivorian government to grant its members access to “all sites and military installations” where arms might be stored. It urged the New Force rebels in the north to do the same. The Security Council is expected later this week to renew for another year an arms embargo and other U.N. sanctions on the Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer which is still recovering from a civil war. The arms embargo was imposed in 2004 over violations of a 2003 cease-fire between the government and the rebels. The report said both sides have continued rearming, despite plans for an election that is meant to reunite the country. “Despite the arms embargo, northern and southern Ivorian parties are rearming or re-equipping with related materiel,” it said. The report described the transfers of weapons and ammunition from Burkina Faso to the rebel-controlled northern Ivory Coast as “systematic,” and demanded that the government launch a “full investigation.” An embargo on buying rough diamonds mined in the economic powerhouse of Francophone West Africa was imposed in 2005. The panel urged states to crack down on so-called “blood diamonds” from conflict zones that are often used to fund wars. Among nations it said needed to step up efforts to stop the illegal export and sale of Ivory Coast diamonds were Israel, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Guinea and Liberia. Ivory Coast’s government has scheduled a long-delayed presidential election for Nov. 29, but election officials have said a series of delays in preparing the poll will make it all but impossible to organize a vote next month. The election is intended to seal a March 2007 peace deal between President Laurent Gbagbo and northern rebels, who fought a 2002-2003 civil war. Peacekeepers from the United Nations and its former colonial master France are backing the election process. Gbagbo plans to run for re-election against his arch-rivals Alassane Outtara and Henri Konan Bedie.
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