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Ivory Coast Rebel Leader Travels to South Africa

The leader of the northern rebels in Ivory Coast is traveling to South Africa to meet with President Thabo Mbeki to discuss the peace process in the world's number one cocoa-producing nation. Meanwhile, the leader of the pro-government youth militia says western citizens remaining in Ivory Coast will be protected.

Spokesman for the rebel New Forces, Sidiki Konate, says chairman Guillaume Soro is preparing to fly to South Africa to meet with President Mbeki. Mr. Soro had previously said he would not attend any meeting in which Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo would be present. President Mbeki met with President Gbagbo in Abidjan last week.

Mr. Konate accuses President Gbagbo of undermining the peace process in Ivory Coast after the Ivorian military conducted air raids on the north, violating an 18-month-old cease-fire agreement nearly two weeks ago.

"Because the man is working against the agreement. He's working against the whole international community. He's destroying the city of Abidjan and the whole Ivory Coast," Mr. Konate said. "He's chasing the foreign people who are here to help us develop. So, it's time now to say Mr. Gbagbo you cannot work."

President Gbagbo has promised not to violate an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations on Monday and says he is working to implement the peace agreements. Before the arms embargo was passed, President Gbagbo had said he would buy new warplanes to protect his country after France destroyed the small Ivorian air force in retaliation for the death of nine French peacekeepers earlier this month.

There have been unconfirmed reports from the military that new Sukhoi bombers and helicopter gunships had been purchased last week and arrived in a neighboring country. The United Nations has threatened sanctions against individuals viewed as jeopardizing the peace process in Ivory Coast, which has been teetering on the verge of war for more than two years.

Evacuations of foreigners are still taking place from the international airport in Abidjan. Although more than five thousand non-nationals and more than twice as many nationals have fled the recent violence, government controlled national television has said only 500 French nationals have left.

The leader of the pro-government youth militia Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude, says his group is working to protect members of the international community.

"Anybody who attacks the foreigners or the French community, it is not in our aim to attack the international community," he said. "What we are doing ourselves is to protect that community in order to show the truth to the outside world."

The truth according to Mr. Ble Goude is that the French soldiers securing the city of Abidjan and other areas of Ivory Coast should be driven out. He accuses them of killing innocent civilians and says France is the enemy.

President Gbagbo is expected to hold a cabinet ministers meeting on Thursday to discuss the new deadlines for the implementation of the peace agreement.