Côte d'Ivoire

Ivory Coast's premier to meet President Gbagbo

By David Clarke

ABIDJAN, (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's prime minister was expected to brief President Laurent Gbagbo on Sunday about his efforts to reconcile enemies in a power-sharing government meant to end a five-month civil war.

Nearly a month after a French-brokered peace deal was agreed, Premier Seydou Diarra is caught between rebel demands for two key ministries and the fury of Gbagbo supporters who will not accept handing the plum jobs to insurgents.

As Diarra arrived back in the West African nation's main city Abidjan on Sunday from the Franco-African summit in Paris, a rebel commander warned that rebel claims to top jobs in the defence and interior ministries were non-negotiable.

Diarra, appointed under the peace deal to form a unity government, met rebel leaders from the main Patriotic Movement for Ivory Coast (MPCI) faction in Paris last week where they hinted they could be flexible on the posts.

"He left Paris last night for Abidjan. He's going to meet the head of state this afternoon to brief him on the consultations in Paris," President Gbagbo's adviser Toussaint Alain said on Sunday in Paris.

Alain declined to comment on whether Diarra had come up with list of nominees to present to the president.

Ivory Coast's war erupted in September after a failed coup by disgruntled soldiers mushroomed into a full-blown conflict which has left thousands dead and driven more than a million people from their homes.

Three rebel factions now control the north of the world's biggest cocoa grower and chunks of the lush, fertile west. Under the Paris peace deal the rebels agreed to stop fighting in return for posts in a new government.

Rebel commander Felix Doh, who heads one of two western rebel factions, warned again on Sunday that there would be war if the accord was not fully implemented.

"If Gbagbo tries to move even one comma of the deal, there will be war," he said. "We are ready to die ... There will be no compromises, we have already made too many concessions.


Diarra's task is not straightforward. Opposition to rebels joining the administration has been both vocal and violent in Abidjan, where the peace deal triggered anti-French riots.

President Gbagbo has made it clear to his hardline supporters he will have the final say on any cabinet posts, whatever Diarra comes up with. The army has also said it will not tolerate rebels in charge of the security forces.

On Friday, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said the rebels appeared ready to forgo the two key ministries in a compromise to break the deadlock.

But the rebels said Saturday they wanted French and West African soldiers in Ivory Coast to guarantee security in the southern commercial hub Abidjan, before there could be any talk of rebel compromises on key cabinet posts.

Scores of people, many from the predominantly Muslim north held by the rebels, have been killed by shadowy militias in Abidjan since the start of the conflict in September. Gbagbo's powerbase is in the more heavily Christian and animist south.

France, which has 3,000 troops in Ivory Coast to protect foreign nationals and police a ceasefire line, has said it will work with regional troops to guarantee the security of the new coalition government.

On Sunday, Doh lashed out at the French military presence, saying it was not normal that French soldiers should prevent rebels from marching on Abidjan.

(Additional reporting by Emelia Sithole in Paris)


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet