Côte d'Ivoire

African leaders push to save Ivorian peace deal

BOUAKE, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - African leaders fly to Ivory Coast on Monday for a summit to shore up a French-brokered peace deal, but rebels threatening to return to war within a week will not attend the talks.

As fighting flared ominously in the west of the world's largest cocoa producer, the rebels vowed again to march on the the former French colony's main city of Abidjan if President Laurent Gbagbo failed to implement the deal within one week.

Gbagbo has given only a lukewarm endorsement to the deal that calls for a new coalition government, including rebels, to end a five-month civil war that officials say has killed thousands of people and displaced more than one million.

West African mediators had hoped a summit in the capital Yamoussoukro would bring Gbagbo and rebels leaders together to discuss how to implement last month's peace accord, which has run into fierce opposition from the president's supporters.

But Guillaume Soro of the main rebel group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, said there was no need to discuss the deal, which gives the rebels key ministerial posts.

"If a week goes by and Gbagbo hasn't reacted then we no longer consider ourselves bound by anything and will take responsibility for going to Abidjan," he said.

Anti-French riots broke out in Abidjan when news of the rebel cabinet posts leaked out. Gbagbo addressed the nation on Friday, asking Ivorians to accept the spirit of the deal, but saying he would make the final decisions on any government.


Gbagbo will take the first step to implementing the deal on Monday with the investiture of Seydou Diarra as prime minister charged with forming the new government.

Diarra is from the largely Muslim north and is not liked by hardline supporters of Gbagbo who hails from the mostly Christian south.

The ethnic divide is at the root of the war that blew up after a failed coup last September. Three rebel factions now hold the northern half of the country and large chunks of the west.

Ghanaian President John Kufuor, head of the Economic Community of West African States, will chair Monday's summit due to be attended by at least four other regional heads of state.

Last week, Kufuor held separate talks with Gbagbo and a rebel delegation in Accra. West African leaders have tried before with little success to mediate a solution.

More than 3,000 French soldiers are in Ivory Coast to protect French citizens and other foreign nationals and to police a shaky ceasefire.

Fighting broke out again on Sunday in the wild frontier-land along the western border with Liberia.

Army spokesman Jules Yao Yao said rebels had launched a three-pronged attack on loyalist troops in Toulepleu, just 20 km (13 miles) from the border.

A rebel commander, calling himself Israel, said government troops bombarded his positions with tanks and heavy weapons, killing four rebels and wounding two.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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