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Conflicting Reports about  Ivory Coast Peace Talks - 2002-11-01


Mixed reports are emerging from participants at peace negotiations aimed at ending a six-week-old rebellion in Ivory Coast.

The French news agency (AFP) quotes a member of the rebel delegation as saying there has been no progress at all since the Ivory Coast peace talks began in Togo on Wednesday.

Rebel spokesman Tuo Fozie, who returned to the rebel stronghold of Bouake in central Ivory Coast Friday for consultations, said anything else reported is - in his words - a lie, pure and simple.

The rebels' characterization of the talks contradicts reports from Togolese mediators and others, who had said progress, although slow, was being made toward a peace agreement.

Mediators late Friday said discussion had not yet begun on key points, such as the rebels' demands for Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo's resignation and new elections, nor on the government's calls for the disarmament of rebels.

The conflict has raised long-standing tensions between Ivory Coast's large population of Dioula-speaking people from the north of the country, who are largely Muslim, and those from the south and west who are of other faiths. The northerners accuse the others of discriminating against them.

Muslim religious leaders prayed for President Gbagbo's departure Friday, as hundreds marched in the rebel-held town of Seguela in the center-west of Ivory Coast. Demonstrators said negotiations should not go on, unless Mr. Gbagbo is ousted.

A pro-Gbagbo demonstration was planned for Saturday in the main city of Abidjan, which is under government control.

Diplomats say that, although negotiations in Togo are proceeding at a slow pace, they continue to hope that an accord may be reached soon. Officials said the fact that both sides appear willing to keep talking is a good sign.

Leaders of the two delegations surprised mediators on Friday afternoon at lunch, when they spontaneously stood up, danced, and then shook hands. The gesture drew a wave of applause from diplomats.

The six-week-old insurrection in Ivory Coast has killed hundreds and displaced thousands more. A cease-fire agreement reached two weeks ago continues to hold, but the once-prosperous country remains divided, with rebels controlling a large section of the center and north.

West African leaders have been pressing both sides to end the conflict, fearing it could have repercussions throughout the region.

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