Côte d'Ivoire

Ivorian government, rebels thrash out peace accord

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By John Zodzi
LOME, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Delegates from Ivory Coast's government and rebel groups gathered in Togo on Monday to sign an accord to try to end nearly two months of fighting in the west of the country.

The western rebels launched their revolt in November, two months after another rebel force took control of mainly Muslim northern Ivory Coast following a failed coup attempt. Hundreds have died in the fighting since mid-September and over 600,000 have fled their homes.

"We came to Lome with the aim of signing an agreement. ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) has just made a proposal that we have accepted and we expect the government to similarly show good faith," said Felix Doh, leader of the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Far West (MPIGO).

The northern Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) signed a ceasefire last month, but no such agreement has been reached with either of the groups in the cocoa-rich west, the MPIGO and the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP).

The two groups say they were provoked into rebellion by the killing of former military ruler General Robert Guei, a westerner, by government forces in September.

Sources at the talks said there has been much haggling over the wording of the planned accord, with rebels insisting on a "truce" and the government on a fully fledged ceasefire. The ECOWAS mediators and France have been trying to broker a compromise.

Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema is due to meet the Ivorian delegates later on Monday, after attending an annual military parade in honour of his coming to power in a 1967 coup.

The fighting in Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, has ruined the country's chances of regaining a reputation it once held as an island of stability in a turbulent region. Since its first ever coup d'etat in 1999, Ivory Coast has been rocked by a series of military revolts and political clashes, but the latest crisis is by far the most serious.

FRANCE PRESSURES REBELS

Western diplomats said France exerted pressure on the western rebel factions to make sure they came to Lome, allowing a more auspicious start for the Paris talks involving rebels, government officials and political parties.

France has committed a 2,500-strong force to Ivory Coast in its biggest African intervention since the 1980s to stop the crisis spiralling out of control in a country where it has big business interests and up to 20,000 citizens.

But there are few signs of compromise between President Laurent Gbagbo's government and rebels ahead of talks.

"There is nothing to negotiate with Gbagbo because Gbagbo does not respect his word," said Louis Dacoury-Tabley, a Paris-based leader of the MPCI, which signed its ceasefire after failing to make serious inroads into the mostly Christian south.

All three rebel groups are united in their desire to see the back of Gbagbo, who was elected in disputed polls in 2000, and they want new elections.

Gbagbo has said he will not go, proposing instead a national unity government and amnesty for the rebels.

The western groups have said they will take part in the Paris peace talks despite announcing on Friday that they were pulling out after attacks by loyalists backed by foreign mercenaries and helicopter gunships.

The army said on Sunday that it had frozen its positions in the west as long it was not provoked by the rebels.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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