Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast needs government urgently - committee

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By David Clarke
ABIDJAN, Feb 27 (Reuters) - An international committee charged with supervising Ivory Coast's disputed peace deal called on Thursday for the urgent creation of a new government to end a civil war that has divided the West African nation.

The former French colony is on edge waiting for the unveiling of the new government, which is meant to include rebels, but progress has been held up by fierce political wrangling over sensitive cabinet jobs.

"The follow-up committee urges all the parties to cooperate fully to urgently set up the government of national reconciliation," a statement released on Thursday said.

Rebels have threatened to take up arms again if they do not get key defence posts promised in Paris as part of last month's French-brokered peace accord to end five months of civil war.

In a reminder of that possibility, state radio reported on Wednesday that rebels had attacked loyalists in the southwest on Monday night -- the latest in a series of sporadic, small-scale skirmishes to disrupt a fragile cease-fire.

President Laurent Gbagbo wants control of the key defence and interior ministries to go to neutral professionals. He has reportedly rejected a list drawn up by the new prime minister and proposed his own nominees.

The international committee is headed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative to Ivory Coast, Albert Tevoedjre. The group met Gbagbo on Wednesday.

The committee also said it was important to address the security of members of the new government in the world's largest cocoa producer, and to give new Prime Minister Seydou Diarra greater powers to build his team.

A climate of fear has reigned in Ivory Coast since the war began, with death squads operating in the government-held main city of Abidjan and allegations of atrocities by both sides.

Amnesty International released a report on Thursday, accusing the rebels of executing 52 gendarmes and eight of their sons last October. The rebels have denied the charge.

FLASH FIGHTING

Gbagbo was due to fly to nearby Togo on Saturday for talks with veteran African statesman, President Gnassingbe Eyadema.

Eyadema has been a key mediator between Ivory Coast's rebels and the government since the war broke out after a failed coup in September. Fighting and reprisals have cost thousands of lives, and more than one million people have been displaced.

The rebels behind the coup hold the north of the country, while two other rebel factions are operating in the cocoa-rich west, near the border with Liberia.

More than 3,000 French soldiers and 1,300 West African troops are here to police a cease-fire and protect foreigners.

Some of the fiercest recent fighting has been in the west, where Liberian fighters, notorious for their lack of discipline and brutality, have joined rebel ranks.

State radio said Wednesday some 40 rebels attacked loyalist forces on Monday night about 60 km (30 miles) from the southwestern coastal resort of Grand Bereby.

The radio said the rebels spoke English, suggesting they were from nearby Liberia. Ivory Coast's main official language is French and few people speak English.

Army spokesman Jules Yao Yao confirmed the fighting and eight rebel deaths and said he would give more details later.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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