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Senegal's Foreign Minister Discusses Peace with Ivory Coast Rebels - 2002-10-12

Senegal's foreign minister has held talks with insurgents in the rebel-held town of Bouake in Ivory Coast as part of West Africa's renewed efforts to end a three-week rebellion. But the rebels are giving mixed signals about whether they would agree to another ceasefire deal.

Senegal's Foreign Minister Cheik Tidiane Gadio emerged Saturday afternoon from a two-hour meeting with rebel commanders, saying he felt optimistic the new proposals he brought to them would be seriously considered. He did not provide details of those new proposals. But he says the rebels did not reject them and promised to study them before meeting the foreign minister again on Sunday.

But rebel commander Tuo Fozie told reporters after the talks that Mr. Gadio had offered nothing new. It is believed the proposals presented on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States which has been trying to broker a cease-fire between the insurgents and government forces, contain some of the same clauses Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo rejected nearly a week ago.

The Ivorian leader had promised to sign a truce but reneged at the last minute, saying the truce did not ask for the rebels to disarm. He then launched an offensive in a failed bid to recapture Bouake. The president now says he will sign a ceasefire but only if the rebels first lay down their weapons. The rebels say they do not trust Mr. Gbagbo and have refused to disarm.

The crisis began on September 19 when renegade ex-soldiers attacked military and police targets in various parts of the Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer. The rebels now hold much of the north and central parts of country. They are demanding an immediate reinstatement of all army soldiers excluded from the current government and new elections. Hundreds of people have since been killed in the fighting.

Meanwhile, international aid agencies are warning of a looming humanitarian crisis. They estimate up to 10,000 people - fearing renewed fighting - have fled their homes in Ivory Coast's key cocoa-producing region. Thousands more are pouring out of Bouake.

Simon Pluess, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the main coastal city, Abidjan, says since the rebel takeover, the local economy of Ivory Coast's second largest city has collapsed, forcing people to leave in search of food.

"The food supply situation is more and more desperate," he said. "What is happening is that lots of these people have been joining surrounding cities, being taken care of by the local authorities, the Red Cross and other institutions and being transited to Abidjan or other areas."

The U.N. World Food Program says it fears if calm is not restored soon to Ivory Coast, the situation could become similar to that in Africa's Great Lakes region, where the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and years of warfare in Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi have displaced large numbers of people.