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Warring Sides in Ivory Coast Pessimistic Before New Talks

The opposing sides in Ivory Coast's civil war are due to meet in South Africa next week for talks aimed at restarting the stalled peace process. But both rebels and supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo are pessimistic any real progress will be made to ensure elections go ahead as scheduled later this year.

The meeting in South Africa's administrative capital, Pretoria, is due to open after June 27, a date on which, originally, rebel forces and militias were already to have begun their disarmament.

But the rebel New Forces have already said they will not adhere to that deadline. Spokesman Sidiki Konate says though the rebels have been invited and will be represented in Pretoria, they hold out little hope for South African President Thabo Mbeki's latest attempt at mediation.

"We are going to South Africa with a lot of doubts," said Mr. Konate. "We are not sure that this group will bring any solution."

Next week's talks will be the second meeting in South Africa to resolve the lingering Ivory Coast civil war. Negotiations in April led to the laying out of a new framework aimed at implementing a peace agreement initially brokered in France in 2003 and preparing the way for presidential elections set for October.

Under the agreement, both rebels and militias loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo are to disarm. New Forces military leadership met with government army representatives and Ivory Coast's national disarmament commission. But the rebels have yet to begin handing in their weapons.

Mr. Konate blames President Gbagbo, who, he says is not holding up his end of the Pretoria peace deal. He says the president has done nothing to push through required changes to nationality laws, and, he says, southern militias remain a threat. "We did what we should. Now, it is on the side of Mr. Gbagbo Laurent to vote the law and to disarm the young militia, who are creating today big insecurity," he said.

A parliamentary bloc from Mr. Gbagbo's political party, led by his wife Simone, has repeatedly stalled on the issue of changing the nationality law. Mr. Gbagbo did use presidential prerogatives to allow popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara to run in the October election, another key rebel demand.

A supporter of Mr. Gbagbo, Genevieve Bro Grebe says the rebels are simply making excuses. She says, since the very first peace treaty, known as the Marcoussis accord, the rebels have never been serious about disarming.

"Everything has been done since they came from Marcoussis. When they came from Marcoussis, they should have disarmed, and they didn't," she stated. "If you know the rebel's history in the war, they will never disarm."

The head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori told journalists at headquarters in New York this week the South Africa meeting will be critical. Mr. Schori says the entire international community is watching Ivory Coast. He says the world wants the war to end. He also says, no one understands why neither side is living up to its peace deal promises.

The United Nations currently has more than 6,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. Most patrol a buffer zone that separates the country's rebel-held north and government controlled south.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday approved an increase in the number of peacekeepers and police in Ivory Coast as part of its mission to get peace talks going again.