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Three Opposition Leaders Absent from Ivory Coast Reconciliation Forum - 2001-10-31

Ivory Coast is now in the fourth week of a National Reconciliation Forum, convened by the government in an effort to restore political and social stability to the West African country. However, the country's three main opposition leaders have so far not attended any of the forum sessions. Government officials acknowledge the conference will not succeed unless the opposition leaders attend.

Forum officials sounded confident Tuesday evening when they announced that the three opposition leaders will soon attend the conference being held in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan.

However, the opposition leaders were in no rush to confirm the government announcement.

Former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara said Tuesday through a spokesman he will not come to the forum until last year's court decision barring him from running from office, because of questions about his citizenship, is voided. Mr. Ouattara has denied claims by his opponents that he is a citizen of Burkina Faso.

Meanwhile, sources close to former military ruler General Robert Guei told VOA the general is concerned about his safety. They say General Guei is worried the government of President Laurent Gbagbo might try to arrest him if he attends the forum. Earlier this week, the general's top aide was indicted on charges of plotting against the state.

In addition, former President Bedie, who was ousted two years ago in a coup led by General Guei, has not said when, or whether, he will speak at the conference. He has expressed much greater interest in the internal politics of his Ivory Coast Democratic Party, which plans to hold a national convention soon.

Forum officials have used every opportunity to tell the three opposition leaders they are welcome to take part in the proceedings.

A delegation of forum leaders recently went to visit General Guei to assure him the investigation against his aide had nothing to do with him. The general has lived in his native village of Gouessesso, in western Ivory Coast, since his ouster from power one year ago.

Ever since General Guei's 1999 coup, social turmoil and deadly political violence have beset Ivory Coast, a country once considered among the most stable in Africa. Some 300 people died last year in post-election clashes.

Forum officials insist harmony will only return to Ivory Coast if all political leaders attend the conference.

As things stand, there is no evidence that opposition parties agree.