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Ivory Coast Rebels Reject South Africa as Mediator


Rebels in northern Ivory Coast say they will no longer negotiate with South African President Thabo Mbeki, an international mediator in the nation's recent crisis. They say South Africa's statement Monday that laws adopted by President Laurent Gbagbo conform to the provisions of the peace plan is proof Mr. Mbeki has lost objectivity as a mediator.

Members of Ivory Coast's rebel faction are accusing the South African president of losing objectivity in mediating the current crisis in the embattled nation and say from now on they will address their grievances to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate, of the New Forces, said that he is sending a letter to Mr. Annan saying that South Africa has economic interests in Ivory Coast which throws doubt on President Thabo Mbeki's credibility as an mediator in Ivory Coast's disputes. Mr. Konate said that he has reason to suspect that Mr. Mbeki also has supplied weapons to the Gbagbo government.

"Until today we have no official reaction from South Africa and we want to know what is going on between Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Gbagbo," he said.

Mr. Mbeki has been mediating the crisis in the divided West African state since last November. On Sunday, South Africa's Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said the decrees issued by President Laurent Gbagbo on July 15 were acceptable under the agreement which is supposed to lead Ivory Coast to its next election. The decrees included laws on nationality, citizenship rights and the composition of an independent electoral commission.

The northern rebels, however, rejected the decrees on the grounds they exclude many of their supporters from voting in the October elections and give an unfair advantage to the Gbagbo government. One-quarter of Ivory Coast's 16.8 million people have foreign roots which, under a policy known as Ivorianness, prevents them from holding national identity cards, voting or owning land.

The Gbagbo government accuses the rebels of trying to undermine the October election. It also says the rebels are stalling the disarmament process outlined in the last peace agreement signed last June.

The process of disarming both the rebels and pro-government militias is already behind schedule.

"We want to have elections now," says President Gbagbo supporter, Patricia Hamza. "And, to have elections, rebels need to disarm, and they have to be disarmed."

Ms. Hamza said that the Gbagbo government backs Mr. Mbeki and said having another mediator is out of the question.

But rebel spokesman Konate rejects the claim that disarmament is the issue.

"I will remind you that the problem in the Ivory Coast is not a problem of disarmament," said Mr. Konate. "The problem of Ivory Coast is not an economic problem. It is a problem of identity. It is a problem of nationality. It is a problem of fair and democratic elections . If Mr. Kofi Annan wants to solve the problem of Ivory Coast, he has to deal with these three questions."

Despite the setbacks to the peace process, President Gbagbo insists the election will be held on the scheduled October 30 date.

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