Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire: African Union backs peace deal

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ADDIS ABABA, 4 February (IRIN) - African leaders attending an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa have agreed to endorse a French-brokered peace agreement aimed at ending a four-month-old armed conflict in Cote d'Ivoire, South African President Thabo Mbeki said on Tuesday.
The agreement was signed on 24 January 2003 in Marcoussis, France, by Cote d'Ivoire's main political parties and rebel groups. It was initialed by President Laurent Gbagbo at a 25 January summit of West African leaders, held also in France.

"Since that agreement was arrived at there have been lots of demonstrations in the Ivory Coast against it," Mbeki said at the end of the two-day summit. "But the summit agreed that it provided the basis for the resolution of this conflict." It also called for an "enhanced involvement" by the AU.

"There needs to be continuing negotiations with the government and with the rebels to see what amendments might need to be made so that the Marcoussis agreement becomes acceptable to everybody," he said. "And that process has already started."

"There will be adjustments to the Marcoussis agreement," added Mbeki, who is the current chairman of the AU.

The Ivorian conflict began on 19 September as an uprising by members of the military - a coup attempt, according to the government - before developing into a full-fledged rebellion. In October, West African mediators acting under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediated a ceasefire between loyalist forces and the main rebel group. However little progress was made in subsequent negotiations between the two sides.

The Marcoussis agreement marked an apparent breakthrough. It provides for a government of national reconciliation including representatives of the ruling party, other major political parties, and the rebels. Among other things, the agreement provides for a softening of the conditions presidential candidates have to satisfy along with other reforms demanded by the rebels and a section of the political opposition.

However, pro-government groups have protested almost daily against the accord. On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of the Ivorian commercial capital, Abidjan, to demonstrate their opposition to the peace deal - the largest protest since the armed conflict began.

Its detractors claim the peace pact is unacceptable because it gives cabinet positions to rebels who tried to overthrow the president.

On Sunday, the presidents of Ghana, Nigeria and Togo traveled to Abidjan in an effort to salvage the accord but there was no indication that they made any real headway.

Ghanaian President John Kufour said at the AU summit that despite the protests, he felt Cote d'Ivoire would back the accord. "I believe everybody is in agreement with the Marcoussis Accord," Kufour, 63, said at the AU summit. "We believe there is still some chance provided all sides will be open and flexible in the interests of their country. So far when you look at the agreement as such, I haven't heard people find much fault with the terms. I think where the problems come is with the implementation and that is what everybody is engaged on, trying to find a way forward."

Ghana, which shares a border with Cote d'Ivoire, is a member of the contact group set up by ECOWAS to try and solve the conflict, which has split the country along ethnic and religious lines. The main rebel group controls the largely Muslim north, while the mainly Christian south, including Abidjan, remains in government hands. Two smaller rebel groups operate in the west, along the border with Liberia.

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