Côte d'Ivoire

Cote d'Ivoire peace talks postponed

JOHANNESBURG, Jun 20, 2005 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Cote d'Ivoire's stalled peace talks scheduled for Pretoria this weekend were postponed because not all parties could attend, the South African Presidency announced on Monday.

"We are trying to get all parties down here," Presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said, adding a future date had not yet been proposed.

Mandated by the African Union, South African President Thabo Mbeki has been trying to find a way to end the civil war in the West African country, which flared up after a failed coup in 2002, effectively dividing the country into the government held south and the rebel held north.

Mbeki made an early breakthrough on April 6 when he negotiated a peace accord, preparing the way for talks between the warring factions.

The country's rich cocoa growing western region has, however, seen some bloody clashes between rebels and government troops in recent weeks.

Last Friday Cote d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo declared he would place the region -- Moyen Cavally -- under military rule.

Blaming his main rival, Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo dubbed the clashes a "crime against humanity."

Gbagbo said he had also set up a rapid intervention force in the main city Abidjan, saying "insecurity and violence have become insupportable" there.

"Security is the best way of assuring that elections go ahead as the constitution of our country prescribes," he said.

The United Nations has expressed fears the region could collapse into "a long and extremely murderous tribal and ethnic war."

But presidential elections scheduled for October 30 were still on track thanks to Mbeki's efforts, said Henri Boshoff, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

These will be followed by legislative and municipal elections intended to return the country to normality following the abortive September 2002 coup by northern forces that started the civil war in the former French colony.

Boshoff said the postponed talks would concentrate on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the army and militia groups.

"The elections will also be discussed with special focus on access to the state broadcaster and the funding of political parties," he said.