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Ivory Coast Rebels Prepare to Sign Cease-Fire Accord - 2002-10-04

Representatives of the rebels and the government in Ivory Coast are preparing to sign a ceasefire agreement, as a first step toward ending a two-week conflict in the west African country. The agreement is due to be signed Friday.

Mediators say the agreement commits rebels and government forces to end all hostilities, so that both sides can sit down for peace negotiations.

Peace talks would eventually involve leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, who are anxious to see an end to the conflict, now in its third week. The fighting has killed hundreds of people.

The team of mediators is made up of foreign and defense ministers from six west African nations, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, Niger, Mali and Togo.

Renegade soldiers who initially staged attacks on September 19, continued to take over towns in the central and northern areas of Ivory Coast this week. The government has repeatedly vowed to launch major offensives on rebel-held areas, but has largely not carried them out.

Some rebel spokesmen have complained that it was only the knowledge that a contingent of French troops was posted north of Yamoussoukro that prevented them from advancing south toward Ivory Coast's principal city, Abidjan.

France, the former colonial power here, is not directly involved in the mediation efforts, but French forces are assisting with the transport and protection of some participants.

Mediators say the government of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo had already agreed to negotiate once the ceasefire accord was in effect.