Côte d'Ivoire

U.N. team lands in Ivory Coast as peace deal drags

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By Clar Ni Chonghaile

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A United Nations team flew into Ivory Coast on Monday to gauge security in the West African country as a peace deal meant to end five months of civil war appeared at an impasse.

The officials from New York and Geneva will spend nearly two weeks in Ivory Coast, looking at ways the United Nations can help end a conflict which has left thousands dead and split the former French colony.

U.N. agencies say well over a million children are no longer attending schools, reports of growing inter-ethnic tensions and human rights abuses are streaming in from all over the country and the western region near Liberia is "highly unstable".

"The situation is alarming," a U.N. official said on Monday.

A French-brokered peace deal was struck a month ago and President Laurent Gbagbo has named a prime minister charged with forming a government of national reconciliation, which includes the rebels who control half the cocoa-growing country.

But new premier Seydou Diarra is caught between rebel demands for two key cabinet posts at the defence and interior ministries and the fury of many Gbagbo supporters who will not tolerate handing the plum jobs to insurgents.

"Those posts remain the subject of the impasse," a West African diplomat said on Monday, adding he hoped a new administration would be in place by the start of March. "The first thing is to get the government formed."

Security sources said Diarra, a former diplomat, met Gbagbo on Sunday in Ivory Coast's main commercial hub of Abidjan but both camps were tight-lipped about the outcome on Monday.

A follow-up committee to the Paris deal which includes U.N., French and regional representatives, was due to meet in Abidjan in the next few days to discuss developments.

REBELS TOUGHEN STANCE

Ivory Coast's war erupted in September after a failed coup by disgruntled soldiers mushroomed into a full-blown war which has driven more than a million people from their homes and stoked fears it might destabilise the whole region.

Three rebel factions control the north of the country along with chunks of the lush, fertile cocoa-rich west. Under the Paris peace deal the rebels agreed to stop fighting in return for posts in a new government.

Leaders of the main Patriotic Movement for Ivory Coast (MPCI) rebel faction were due to hold a news conference in Paris on Monday against a backdrop of increasingly bellicose statements by rebel commanders on the ground.

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

The MPCI also said over the weekend it wanted French and West African soldiers to guarantee security in Abidjan, before there could be any talk of compromises on cabinet posts.

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.

"I hope the MPCI will keep their eye on the bigger picture," said the African diplomat, who declined to be named. "To get the process going, you need professional people."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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