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Ivory Coast Rebels Choosing Governors in Areas of Control - 2002-10-24


Rebels in Ivory Coast say they are setting up an independent administration of areas under their control. The action comes despite preparations for negotiations with the government of President Laurent Gbagbo.

Rebel leaders said they are in the process of choosing governors to administer services to people in a large section of the center and north of Ivory Coast that has been under their control for more than a month.

Rebels this week began radio and television broadcasts from their stronghold in the city of Bouake. The move angered government officials, who accused the insurgents of illegally taking over state-owned broadcasting facilities and airing anti-government messages.

Insurgent leaders expressed anger this week saying their website had been tampered with. Visitors to the site were being re-directed to a pornographic webpage.

Leaders and ministers of six West African nations met on Wednesday in Abidjan and named Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema the coordinator of mediation efforts. Mr. Eyadema said he would move quickly to arrange the first face-to-face negotiations between rebels and the Ivory Coast government.

The Togolese leader said the stability of the region depended on finding a solution to the crisis in Ivory Coast.

"When a neighbor's house is burning, one must help the neighbor put out the fire," Mr. Eyadema said. "Otherwise, one's house might be next."

Rebels praised the mediators' decision to appoint the Togolese leader, saying he has the experience they believe is necessary to end the crisis. Gnassingbe Eyadema is Africa's longest-sitting head of state. He has governed Togo since 1967, after leading post-independence Africa's first military coup in 1963.

Leaders who met in Abidjan agreed to begin planning the deployment of West African troops to replace the hundreds of French soldiers who are currently monitoring a cease-fire that has been in effect since last week.

Leaders said, however, the deployment would depend on how quickly they could get financial and logistical help from western nations.

The rebels said their decision to start an administration was meant to return life to normal for the thousands of people in the areas they control.

There was no immediate response from the Ivorian government.

The rebellion in Ivory Coast began on September 19, when elements of the military mutinied over the government's plans to demobilize about 700 soldiers.

The rebels, who call their group the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, have demanded President Laurent Gbagbo's resignation.

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