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South Africa to Host Ivorian Peace Talks


South African President Thabo Mbeki has invited warring parties from Ivory Coast to peace talks in South Africa. Mr. Mbeki visited Ivory Coast Tuesday on behalf of the African Union in a bid to end the latest upsurge in violence.

President Mbeki returned to South Africa after a quick trip to Abidjan and began urgent preparations for peace talks to bring an end to Ivory Coast's renewed crisis.

The African Union asked the South African leader to try to find a political solution based on two previous peace deals negotiated in France and Ghana. Mr. Mbeki said Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has re-committed himself to those accords.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad went with Mr. Mbeki to Ivory Coast. He told VOA that talks with the opposition will begin soon.

"President Mbeki," he said, "was mandated to try to help find a political solution, and we urgently went there yesterday for talks with the government, and now in the next few days we'll be meeting with the opposition and the rebel groups to try to get an understanding of what are the obstacles to finding the way forward to implementing the Marcoussis agreement and the Accra III agreement."

Mr. Pahad says exiled Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara is scheduled to arrive in South Africa Thursday. He said rebel leader Guillaume Soro and former President Henri Conan Bedie will be coming as soon as their transportation can be arranged.

The deputy foreign minister says Mr. Mbeki is working not only with the African Union, but with the West African regional group ECOWAS and the U.N. secretary-general.

The international community has been intimately involved in the Ivory Coast peace process. Thousands of French soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers have been trying to enforce a shaky ceasefire since last year.

But Pretoria-based analyst Richard Cornwell of the Institute for Security Studies says so far there has not been enough political and diplomatic pressure to abide by the earlier peace deals.

"The African Union and ECOWAS have made attempts in the past to get President Gbagbo to stick by what he agreed to in the Linas-Marcoussis agreement in 2003. And this has simply not happened," he said. "Now they've given him again an extension until December to actually do something about it. Now it may well be that it is a serious ultimatum. But what happens then? Have they actually spelled out the consequences if he continues to play his delaying tactics?"

Mr. Cornwell says the conflict in Ivory Coast is fairly intractable unless, in his words, "some relatively radical political steps are taken." He said there are forces within Ivory Coast that can help resolve the crisis with minimal bloodshed, but it is not yet clear whether they are being brought into Mr. Mbeki's peace effort.

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