Côte d'Ivoire

French mediators optimistic on Ivory Coast peace talks

By Paul Miller

Paris, 21 Jan 2003 - French mediators at the Ivory Coast peace talks being held near Paris say progress continues and there is a chance that an agreement will be reached before the talks are scheduled to end on Friday. The French president, Jacques Chirac, is urging the delegates to the talks to end the four-month-old civil war in Ivory Coast, which Mr. Chirac has called a grave crisis.

In an interview with the Figaro newspaper, Mr. Chirac said he was trusting in traditional African wisdom to produce an agreement in the negotiations among representatives of Ivory Coast's government, rebel factions and political leaders.

Mr. Chirac has now invited the Ivorian President, Laurent Gbagbo, to meet with him Friday, before a summit of West African heads of state. That also may be a reflection of French optimism that a deal is at hand. The French Foreign Ministry spokesman says there could be an agreement before the Friday deadline.

French mediators apparently headed off a potential crisis when they convinced the main rebel group to abandon plans for a rally in Abidjan Wednesday that the Ivorian government called a provocation. Rebel negotiators are reported to have agreed not to jeopardize the gains already made in the discussions.

Those gains are said to include agreement on issues such as Ivorian nationality, the status of immigrants, and the requirements for running for the presidency. A source in the talks says article 35 of the Ivorian constitution will be amended to allow anyone with one Ivorian parent, rather than two, to run for president.

That change would benefit the leading opposition figure, Alassane Ouattara, who was prevented from running in the last presidential election because the government claimed his mother was born in Burkina Faso.

There is no agreement reported on the question of early elections. The rebels and political opposition want them, believing that Mr. Gbagbo's election in 2000 was not legitimate. The government says there cannot be elections before they are scheduled in 2005.