WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday lifted decade-old sanctions against Ivory Coast, the world's biggest cocoa producer, citing a successful presidential election last year and its progress in tackling illegal trafficking of arms and natural resources.
The sanctions were imposed in February 2006 under President George W. Bush against Ivory Coast political figures for blocking a 2003 peace process. The country had been split in two since a 2002 civil war launched by rebels against then President Laurent Gbagbo.
Wednesday's move follows the lifting a 12-year-old arms embargo and asset freezes and travel bans against six individuals by the UN Security Council in April, including against Gbagbo, who is on trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
"Côte d’Ivoire has taken important steps to strengthen its governing and economic institutions and reconcile the differences that led to war," White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
"Challenges remain as the country continues to tackle difficult land reform issues and works to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are felt throughout the Ivoirian population," he said.
Five years after the country's civil war that followed a 2010 presidential election, Ivory Coast has been reborn as one of Africa's economic stars and held up by many as a model of post-conflict reconstruction.
Deep-seated tensions between supporters of Gbagbo and President Alassane Ouattara, who won the war with French backing, continue to simmer, however.
The White House's Price said tackling difficult land issues and ensuring that everyone benefits from Ivory Coast's economic rise remained as challenges for the government.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Andrea Ricci and James Dalgleish)