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West African Leaders Mull Deadlocked Ivorian Peace Process

Leaders have gathered for the 31st summit of the Economic Community of West African States on Friday. Leading the agenda was the deadlock in the U.N.-backed peace process in the Ivory Coast. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's Central and West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

West African heads of state, including Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, met to make recommendations for a report to the United Nations on the Ivory Coast's compliance with a resolution passed last November.

U.N. Resolution 1721 gives Prime Minister Banny sweeping powers to implement a peace plan that called for democratic elections in the Ivory Coast by October 2007, including control of the security forces.

Kissy Agyeman, analyst with the London-based Global Insight, says that President Gbagbo has effectively prevented the plan's implementation. She does not believe the report by the regional group known as ECOWAS will advance the peace process.

"[President Laurent] Gbagbo has always been a good political [tactician]," she said. "It is great in terms of what will be written on paper, but the real problem in Cote d'Ivoire is implementation."

Mr. Gbagbo said that he would not fully apply the resolution because it violated the Ivorian constitution. Last month he proposed his own plan to hold direct talks with the rebel forces controlling the north of the country. He says international peace plans have done nothing to help reunite Ivory Coast.

Rebels say they are fighting to get more northerners, long treated as second-class citizens, the right to vote.

Though the New Forces rebel leader, Guillaume Soro, has indicated willingness to dialogue, Alex Vines, the head of Africa Programs at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, says this will not be enough to break the stalemate.

"There are very key issues that need to be resolved in Cote d'Ivoire. There is the disarmament issue of the rebels themselves. There is also the issue of identity. People in the north need to get ID cards to secure national identity as Ivorian which is a key issue," he said.

The International Working Group on Cote d'Ivoire proposed last Friday that the U.N. Security Council leave it to ECOWAS and the African Union to bring together actors to break the deadlock.

But Vines with the Royal Institute for International Affairs says this suggestion is unrealistic.

"The Cote D'Ivoire does not trust ECOWAS at all," he said, "so African Union mediation is really the way forward, though that has not worked too well to date."

Among other agenda items, the Friday summit will also discuss the current strike in Guinea and elect a new president to succeed Niger President Mamadou Tandja.

Missing from Friday's summit was Guinean President Lansana Conte.