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Ivory Coast Holds Forum on National Reconciliation - 2001-10-09


The government of Ivory Coast has opened a long-awaited forum on national reconciliation in a bid to end nearly two years of social and political turmoil in this West African country. However, Ivory Coast's main opposition leaders have not showed up for the conference and there are doubts as to what it will actually accomplish.

As the forum opened Tuesday in the country's commercial center, Abidjan, the conference anthem, "let us unite," echoed the message that the Ivory Coast government wanted to send to its opponents and to the outside world.

Hundreds of political and business leaders, traditional chiefs and foreign dignitaries packed the amphitheater of Abidjan's Ivoire Hotel. The presidents of Mali and Ghana and the head of the Organization of African Unity were on hand to lend their support to the forum, which is supposed to last two months.

In his speech, Forum President Seydou Diara lavished praise on Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo for calling the reconciliation forum. Mr. Diara said that President Gbagbo has spared no effort and spent a lot of time and energy reconciling the sons and daughters of Ivory Coast with themselves and with all those who chose to live in the West African country.

Ivory Coast has quite a bit of reconciling to do. Hundreds of people were killed in street clashes nearly a year ago after paramilitary police fired on Muslim northerners angry that their candidate, Alassane Ouattara, was not allowed to stand in recent presidential and legislative elections. Courts barred Mr. Ouattara from running because of questions surrounding his nationality.

President Gbagbo and his predecessor, former military ruler General Robert Guei, the 1999 coup leader, supported the court rulings.

The presence of so many foreign dignitaries at the opening of the forum suggests the international community is waiting to see whether the government can turn the current tense civil peace into genuine inter-ethnic harmony.

The problem is that most of Mr. Gbagbo's opponents were not on hand to hear the fine music and good wishes that marked the opening session.

General Guei, exiled former President Henri Konan Bedie and Mr. Ouattara did not show up, although Mr. Ouattara's party, the Rally of the Republicans, sent a delegation. Mr. Ouattara has said he will attend the forum only if his security is guaranteed.

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