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Ivory Coast Rebels Lash Out Against Government Aircraft Repair

  • Gabi Menezes

Ivory Coast rebels have criticized the U.N. and French peacekeepers' decision to let the Ivory Coast army repair its aircraft, which had been destroyed by French forces in November. A rebel delegation is in South Africa to discuss the situation with President Thabo Mbeki.

A helicopter painted in the Ivory Coast colors of white, green, and orange was heard flying over Abidjan, in the first sign of the newly repaired government aircraft arriving from the administrative capital Yamoussoukro.

Some of the Sukhoi jets and helicopter gunships that make up the Ivory Coast air force had been destroyed in November by French forces after nine of their soldiers were killed in a government attack in the rebel-held north.

The U.N. and French peacekeepers, who are currently enforcing a cease-fire, recently agreed that the government could repair their aircraft on the condition that they were not re-armed.

Rebels have sharply criticized their joint decision, as there is a Security Council arms embargo in place against all parties in the conflict. New Forces spokesman Soul Tosoul spoke to VOA from the rebel stronghold of Bouake.

"We think that the embargo normally stops all business about air planes - to buy air planes and to repair [them]. We think that an embargo stops all things. That is why we cannot understand what happened now," he said.

Mr. Tosoul says civilians in the north are afraid of these developments, remembering government airstrikes carried out in November. The attacks broke a cease-fire which was initially put in place in late 2002, just months after the start of the insurgency.

A group of rebel leaders are meeting in Pretoria this week with the new top mediator in the crisis, South African President Thabo Mbeki, to discuss their concerns as well as new proposals for peace in the country.

Mr. Mbeki has indicated he would consider the idea of organizing a referendum on a key peace proposal, which would ease nationality requirements to run for the presidency.

Mr. Tosoul says the rebels want the change to be made without a referendum.

"We think it is very difficult to hold a referendum that is why we think. I wonder if Mbeki understood our crisis. Because if he understood our crisis he cannot propose a referendum. That is why we have decided to go and meet him and explain again we cannot have a referendum in the Cote D'Ivoire. Today it is not possible. That is why I wonder if Mr. Mbeki understands," said Mr. Tosoul.

The rebels say they are ready to disarm, but not until they have confidence that the Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo will fully implement the stalled peace deal reached in France exactly two-years ago.