West African leaders and ministers who met in Ivory Coast Wednesday have taken another step toward what they hope will soon be an end to the month-long rebellion in the country. Leaders ended a one-day summit with a call for the international community to help finance the deployment of a West African peacekeeping force.
At the end of a closed-door meeting in Abidjan, members of a six-nation contact group of West African mediators said they had taken important steps in the planning of the first face-to-face negotiations between the Ivory Coast government and rebels.
The heads of state of Togo, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, as well as high-ranking officials of Ghana, Guinea Bissau and Nigeria, named Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema as the coordinator of the mediation effort.
Mediators praised both sides for adhering to a cease-fire that has stopped hostilities since it went into effect last week. The accord brokered by the West African contact group has been monitored by French troops deployed in the rebel zone.
Mr. Eyadema said the French troops should soon be replaced by troops from nations of the regional grouping, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS.
At the end of Wednesday's meeting, the Togolese leader called on western nations to help.
He said there are a number of West African countries ready to volunteer their forces so those forces can come to Ivory Coast and relieve the French cease-fire monitors. But, the Togolese president said, that will happen only as soon as there are the financial means to put together such a multi-national force. Mr. Eyadema said he hopes the more powerful western nations can help with the deployment soon.
Attending Wednesday's meeting in Abidjan was South African President Thabo Mbeki, who said any action to end the rebellion should happen quickly. "It is very critical that there should be movement really quite fast," said Thabo Mbeki. "The ECOWAS heads of state who are here, the delegations, are really looking forward to ensuring that the first deployments occur in less than two weeks."
A statement read at the end of the meeting said mediators would arrange for negotiations to begin immediately. Officials, however, did not say when or where the first face-to-face talks would take place between the Ivory Coast government and rebels.
The insurrection, which broke out on September 19, has killed hundreds of people. Rebels, who are demanding the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo, continue to hold a large section of the center and north of the country.