Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast rebels fly to Ghana for talks

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By Matthew Tostevin
BOUAKE, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's rebels headed for talks with the country's new prime minister on Friday as efforts to rescue a faltering peace deal picked up pace with only two days to go before a rebel ultimatum expires.

The rebels left their stronghold of Bouake for neighbouring Ghana's capital Accra, where they were due to meet Ivory Coast's new Prime Minister Seydou Diarra. Ghanaian President John Kufuor will also take part.

The talks come as time runs out on a rebel ultimatum ordering President Laurent Gbagbo to implement the peace accord signed near Paris last month or face more bloodshed in the former French colony, the world's top cocoa producer. The rebel deadline is Sunday at midnight.

The insurgents say that if they do not get powerful posts in a new coalition government they will march on Abidjan, the southern economic hub and main port.

Gbagbo, who met Diarra earlier this week, has cast doubt on this and insists he will have the last say on any nominations.

As he left Bouake, the political leader of the rebel Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) appeared in no mood to make concessions.

"I am just going to Accra to hear what Seydou Diarra has to say...There are no more compromises to be made. Everything has been discussed already," Guillaume Soro said.

"The ultimatum still stands and you will see from midnight on Sunday what happens afterwards," he added.

The West African country's civil war blew up out of a failed coup in September. The main rebel faction, the MPCI, now holds the northern half of the nation while two other groups have seized large chunks of the west, near the border with Liberia.

Officials say thousands have been killed and more than one million forced to flee their homes because of the war.

REBELS WANT KEY GOVERNMENT POSTS

Since his formal appointment this week, Diarra has been locked in talks with participants from all political movements. He met Gbagbo on Wednesday.

The creation of a consensus government was a key element of the peace deal agreed last month.

Rebels say they were promised key posts in the defence and interior ministries. Gbagbo has said any government list proposed by Diarra will have to be approved by him.

The peace deal sparked furious anti-French protests when it was first unveiled. Many Gbagbo supporters find the idea of rebels in charge of police and the army unacceptable.

The choice of Accra as the location for the meeting highlights rebel distrust. They refused to take part in a mini-summit in the government-held capital Yamoussoukro because of security fears.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin urged Gbagbo on Thursday to implement the peace accord. The president has only said the deal is a good base to work from.

France has around 3,000 troops in Ivory Coast to protect French and foreign nationals and to police a ceasefire. The elite French soldiers, including Foreign Legionnaires, are dug in between the belligerents.

Rebels have repeatedly called on the French to leave, saying the French military presence is the only thing stopping them from sweeping through the country and seizing Abidjan.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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