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Gbagbo Rejects New Mediation from West African Bod

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has rejected the idea of having the West African grouping ECOWAS mediate peace negotiations and accused the member countries of siding with his opponents, the northern rebels. Mr. Gbagbo also rejected the demand by the New Forces rebels, who control the north of the country, to step down and instead called on the rebels to give up their arms.

In a televised speech late Tuesday, Mr. Gbagbo said he won't accept new mediation, because negotiations are no longer needed. He said the West African grouping ECOWAS was not the right forum anyway.

Mr. Gbagbo accused ECOWAS member countries of serving as training bases for rebels and allowing the rebels to smuggle coffee, cocoa, diamonds, gold, wood and cotton out of the areas under their control.

ECOWAS is a regional organization of 15 West African nations formed in 1975, mainly to strive for a unified economic zone in the region.

Mr. Gbagbo also rejected calls by the opposition and rebels to step down after his five-year term expires in October.

He said the Ivorian constitution dictates that an elected president hand over power only to an elected successor.

He accused the rebels of refusing to disarm and blamed them for undermining the upcoming elections.

Mr. Gbagbo called on the international community to make sure that elections take place. He said it was obvious the elections scheduled for October 30 could not be held as long as rebels are armed, but that once they disarm, three months should be enough to prepare.

Rebels have called for a new transitional government to implement peace agreements, which, among other things, call for new laws to make many northern Ivorians eligible to vote and be elected.

Roughly 10,000 U.N. and French peacekeepers have been monitoring a shaky cease-fire line.

An Africa specialist for the London-based group Interights, Ibrahim Kane, says he believes, despite what Mr. Gbagbo says, ECOWAS still has a role to play in helping to end the conflict.

"ECOWAS as an institution should be doing the job and we have the legal framework to do the job properly. The problem is to just have the political will to do it," said Mr. Kane.

The current head of the African Union, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, called for the ECOWAS summit in Abuja September 30, to review the peace process in Ivory Coast as well as the work of the current mediator, South African President Thabo Mbeki. Rebels accuse Mr. Mbeki of siding with President Gbagbo and have called for a new mediator.