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Ivory Coast Rebels Suspend Cease-Fire Talks With Mediators - 2002-10-14


In Ivory Coast, rebels have suspended talks with West African mediators, who were trying to negotiate a cease-fire in their nearly month-long rebellion. The talks broke down the day after rebel soldiers captured the key western city of Daloa.

Announcing the suspension of the talks, a spokesman said the rebels will accept nothing less than the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo. Speaking in the rebel-held northern city of Bouake, the rebel spokesman, Sergeant Sherif Usman, also objected to the reported arrival of troops from Angola to support government forces.

Ivorian military officials Sunday said that two Angolan tanks arrived, and possibly troops to man them. The rebel spokesman demanded that the Angolan troops leave, before any peace talks can resume.

The Angolan government has denied that it has sent any troops to Ivory Coast. But VOA has confirmed that a Soviet-era tank broke down Monday near Abidjan's city center. The green vehicle bears no markings, but many suspect it came from Angola.

Earlier Monday, the West African mediators said both sides had agreed in principle to a cease-fire deal that involves a provision for further dialogue and the freezing of front lines. Last week, the effort to negotiate a cease-fire broke down at the last minute, when President Gbagbo said the rebels would have to disarm before he would sign.

The rebels are renegade soldiers who mutinied September 19, in part to protest government plans to streamline the military. The government planned to demobilize 700 soldiers. The rebels say they want the re-instatement of all soldiers who have been forcibly retired, and they also want new presidential elections.

The fall of Daloa was both a strategic and symbolic victory for the rebels, because the city lies in the heartland of President Gbagbo's Bete tribe, and was considered a government stronghold.

In London, the rebel advance into the cocoa belt at the start of the harvest renewed fears of a massive disruption in production. Cocoa prices rose to a 17-year high.

The unrest has displaced tens-of-thousands of people, especially from Bouake, Ivory Coast's second-largest city. Many, fleeing hunger and fear, have fled to the country's political capital to the south, Yamoussoukro, where aid agencies are being overwhelmed with new arrivals. One unidentified district official appealed for calm Monday on a state television news program.

The official says the city is being helped by the United Nations and other non-governmental aid agencies. He says all those who need help will receive it, as long as they remain calm.

The unrest has also triggered a mass exodus of West African immigrants. The border into neighboring Ghana is reported to be choked with busloads of people trying to flee.

The Ivory Coast government has accused foreigners of sparking and supporting the rebel uprising. The charges unleashed a wave of violence against foreigners in government-controlled areas. Paramilitary and security forces have burnt down hundreds of shanty towns in Abidjan that house poor West Africans, accusing them of harboring rebels and rebel sympathizers.

President Gbagbo made the claim again in an interview published Monday in the French newspaper, Le Monde. He also complained that France, Ivory Coast's former colonial power, did not take him seriously when he warned that neighboring Burkina Faso was accepting hundreds of disaffected Ivorian soldiers. Mr. Gbagbo charges these soldiers are the rebels who now call themselves the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, and are demanding his ouster.

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