ABIDJAN, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's army was quoted as saying on Wednesday it would never accept rebels in key cabinet posts as laid out in a Paris-brokered deal to end a five-month civil war in the West African country.
Army spokesman Jules Yao Yao said in a newspaper interview he could see rebels in a government of national reconciliation but ruled out the idea of them getting top jobs at the defence and interior ministries in the former French colony.
"These are things we cannot accept," he told daily Fraternite Matin.
In the main city of Abidjan, hundreds of President Laurent Gbagbo's hardline supporters defied a ban and protested outside a French military base against the presence of some 3,000 French troops in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer.
Led by firebrand student leader and Gbagbo confidant Charles Ble Goude, young demonstrators draped in national flags staged a sit-in near the entrance to the base, which was guarded by lines of Ivorian security forces.
Since the peace deal was struck in Paris last month, it has faced strong opposition in the government-held south, especially against the idea of rebels taking control of the police and army.
Anti-French riots orchestrated by Goude erupted in Abidjan when news of the posts leaked out. The French embassy was attacked, some houses owned by French citizens looted and daily pro-Gbagbo demonstrations dragged on for nearly two weeks.
Thousands of foreigners have since packed their bags and fled the sprawling lagoon-side city, so long a symbol of Ivory Coast's status as an economic powerhouse in a troubled region.
DEVELOPMENT BANK SHIFTS TO TUNISIA
In a further blow to the country's tarnished image, the African Development Bank based in Abidjan said on Wednesday it was shifting its operations and nearly all of its 1,000 staff to Tunisia for at least six months due to security concerns.
Ivory Coast's image was shattered last September when a failed coup by disgruntled soldiers mushroomed into a civil war which has left thousands dead, forced more than a million people from their homes and split the country.
The main rebel faction the Patriotic Movement for Ivory Coast (MPCI) holds the northern half of the country while allied rebel groups control chunks of the cocoa-rich west.
Under the peace deal, Gbagbo appointed Prime Minister Seydou Diarra to form a unity government but after three weeks of talks there are few signs of progress and rebels have called on regional leaders to pressure Gbagbo into implementing the deal.
France has repeatedly urged Gbagbo to do the same and sent crack troops to Ivory Coast to protect foreigners and police a ceasefire, along with a regional peacekeeping force.
In Paris on Tuesday, French Cooperation Minister Pierre-Andre Wiltzer said the rebels had been pledged the posts "but I think discussions are continuing and perhaps other, fair solutions can be found -- it's up to the Ivorians to do it".
Yao said the military believed Gbagbo had been coerced during the Paris talks into accepting defeat in the war, a defeat the army did not accept. He also said for peace to have a chance only neutrals could occupy such sensitive portfolios.
Asked whether there would be another rebellion if rebels took the posts, Yao said: "Call it what you will, but these are things we will never accept...If you want peace in Ivory Coast there are other solutions."
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet