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Ivory Coast Rebels Reject Calls to Surrender - 2002-10-09

Rebels in Ivory Coast are rejecting President Laurent Gbagbo's calls for them to lay down their weapons.

A rebel spokesman, Tuho Fozie, said insurgents remained open to negotiations but would not disarm because, he said, they do not trust President Gbagbo's intentions.

In a speech broadcast late Tuesday, the Ivorian leader said he was willing to engage in peace talks, but only if the rebels laid down their weapons first. Mr. Gbagbo made his offer after he came under heavy international criticism for refusing to sign a cease-fire agreement recently.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Walter Kansteiner traveled to Abidjan Wednesday and met with President Gbagbo. Mr. Kansteiner says the United States encouraged Mr. Gbagbo to negotiate with the rebels.

"Cote d'Ivoire is an anchor in the region. It's an economic anchor. It's a terrific engine for growth, so it's important to get Cote d'Ivoire back on its feet where you can attract increased commerce and you can attract foreign direct investment, you can assist in developing higher trade flows. It's also a political anchor, where you have a region that has had too many conflicts in the near past. The last thing we need is yet another West African conflict and all of the spinoffs that come from that. So, we encouraged a peaceful solution as quickly as possible," Mr. Kansteiner said.

The United States says it will provide political and diplomatic assistance to mediators as they continue to press ahead with efforts to end the crisis.

Rebels this week withstood a government offensive against their stronghold in Bouake, Ivory Coast's second largest city.

The insurgents said they were receiving reinforcements from other parts of the rebel-held north and were preparing a new counter-offensive.

The three-week-old conflict in Ivory Coast, the world's largest producer of cocoa, has killed hundreds of people and pushed the price of cocoa to 16-year highs.