Côte d'Ivoire

West Africa: UN Special Envoy to begin mission tomorrow

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ABIDJAN, 15 January (IRIN) - The United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Carolyn McAskie, is expected in Abidjan on Thursday as she begins a West African mission on the Ivorian crisis and its consequences for the region.
McAskie, whom UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan named last month his Special Envoy for Cote d'Ivoire, is expected to lobby in favour of the work of the UN agencies and the humanitarian community, propose recommendations for strengthening their work on the ground, lobby Ivorian authorities and those of neighbouring countries to take into account the humanitarian needs of those affected as a political solution is being sought.

Her mission will take her to Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo. Each of these countries has a large community living in Cote d'Ivoire. Several thousands have left the country since the beginning of the crisis.

Meanwhile, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is set to start the repatriation of some 600 Liberian refugees from southwestern Cote d'Ivoire by Saturday as an emergency measure of last resort, Acting head of UNHCR office in Abidjan Panos Moumtzis told IRIN on Wednesday.

The Liberian government had given the agency a "go ahead" to repatriate the refugees who will be transported by boat back to their country, he said.

Some 1,000 Liberian were currently stuck at the agency's office in the southwestern town of Tabou having fled from growing hostility and anti-Liberian sentiments - following the attack on Grabo late December - from local Ivorians in the surrounding villages.

However, a delegation from the Foreign Affairs Ministry visited the area and the sentiments towards the refugees was calming down, he added. There were some 200 Ivorians living in a site Tabou having been displaced from Grabo and there were also reports of several others living in sites in San Pedro also in the southwestern Cote d'Ivoire.

On the political front, the six major political parties and the three rebel groups started today in Paris a round-table discussion to find solutions to the four-month old crisis, under the aegis of France, the UN and the Economic Community of West African States.

"Your people are watching you" French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told the belligerents in his opening ceremony speech. The issues of nationality, 'ivoirite', and land needed to be addressed because they were fundamental in achieving peace, de Villepin also said, according to French media sources.

'Ivoirite' is a term coined by former President Henri Konan Bedie, who is leading the delegation of the Parti Democratique de Cote d'Ivoire- PDCI-, the country's oldest party. It has been indexed as one of the sources of conflict as detractors labeled it an "anti-foreign" term with exclusionary and xenophobic undertones. Bedie said it was meant to symbolise Cote d'Ivoire cultural identity and heritage and not meant to exclude anyone.

The Ivorian meeting, which is being held in closed doors, is expected to last until 24 January. Two days later, a heads of state summit of West Africa countries is to open in Paris. President Laurent Gbagbo is not attending the talks.

For IRIN coverage of the Ivorian crisis please go to http://www.irinnews.org/frontpage.asp?SelectRegion=West_Africa&SelectCountry=Cote_d_Ivoire

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