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Ivory Coast Peace Talks To Begin This Week in Togo - 2002-10-27

West African mediators say the first round of peace talks is due to get under way between Ivory Coast government officials and rebels in the next few days.

West African mediators who met Friday and Saturday in Abidjan say the first negotiations are to be held in Togo. No date has been set, but diplomats say they expect the talks to begin in the next few days.

The diplomats say Togo was chosen as the site of the negotiations because it would provide a neutral setting for the discussions. West African leaders last week picked Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema to be the coordinator of the mediation efforts.

Mediators meeting in Abidjan also agreed to deploy a multi-national West African force in Ivory Coast, possibly over the next two weeks.

The West African force of about 2,000 cease-fire monitors is to replace the hundreds of French troops who are currently on the ground. The French forces have reported there have been no verified accounts of fighting since the cease-fire took effect more than a week ago.

Officials attending the meeting Friday and Saturday in Abidjan say a number of West African nations have volunteered to send troops to Ivory Coast. They include Benin, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. Officials say the largest contingent will be from Senegal.

Mediators expect Western nations, including the United States, France, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, to finance the deployment.

Many people in Ivory Coast have said they do not want West African peacekeepers in their country after hearing reports of widespread looting and human rights violations in previous West African missions in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The plans for the peacekeepers' deployment and the upcoming negotiations are part of the effort to end the month-old insurrection in Ivory Coast, which has killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands more.

Rebels who launched their attacks on September 19 continue to control a large part of the north and center of the country.

Officials say they expect the first round of talks between the government and rebels to be especially difficult.

The government insists it wants the rebels to disarm immediately and allow loyalist forces to take control of the rebel-controlled areas.

The insurgents say they would not give up their demands for President Laurent Gbagbo's resignation and the holding of new elections before the originally scheduled date of 2005.