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West African Leaders Focus on Guinea; Encourage Ivory Coast Dialogue

West African heads of state have concluded a summit in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The top two issues were the on-going general strike in Guinea and the stalled peace process in Ivory Coast. The leaders expressed concern over the situation Guinea. They also sought to encourage dialogue in the Ivory Coast. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

As a second week of strikes continues to incite deadly violence and paralyze industry in Guinea, eleven presidents issued a communiqué urging the newly-elected chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore, to send a high-level peace delegation to Guinea.

Officials of the regional group known as ECOWAS said the delegation could include Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

One of the summit participants, Burkina Faso's Minister of Regional Cooperation, Jean de Dieu Somda, says instability in Guinea requires immediate attention.

"Heads of states have to understand the [situation] of Guinea and try to know what ECOWAS can do to help this country in this actual situation," he said.

Absent from the meeting was Guinean President Lansana Conte. Union leaders have demanded Mr. Conte set up a transitional government. They say the ailing president is unfit to solve the country's worsening economic crisis.

Mr. Conte dismissed his minister of presidential affairs late Friday and replaced him with a close ally. It is not clear why the president took the action.

Guinean union leaders say the replacement, which comes from the president's party, was an insufficient gesture. They continue to demand that Mr. Conte step aside.

In addition to Guinea, Ivory Coast also dominated the agenda. In the face of a stalled U.N.-backed peace process, the heads of state welcomed Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo's initiative to engage in direct talks with the rebels who control the northern half of the country.

Mr. Gbagbo has previously blamed the ECOWAS group for being incompetent in helping reunite Ivory Coast.

The outgoing ECOWAS chair, Niger's President Mamadou Tandja, urged African leaders, in his words, not to give way to weariness about Ivory Coast.