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Ivory Coast Government, Rebels Sign First Agreement


Ivory Coast government officials and rebels meeting in Togo have signed their first agreement following three days of peace negotiations. V-O-A's Luis Ramirez reports from Abidjan.

The agreement announced late Friday in the Togolese capital, Lome, commits the government to push through laws granting amnesty for renegade soldiers who are imprisoned or in exile.

The head of the West African team of mediators who brokered the talks, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, said the accord is a major breakthrough in the effort to end the six-week-old insurrection in Ivory Coast, which has killed hundreds and displaced thousands more.

The agreement, Mr. Chambas said, addresses the matters that rebels cited when they launched their initial attacks on September 19.

"The trigger of this crisis was the grievances that the military had over their professional service [working] conditions," he explained. "We have reached agreement on these issues, satisfactory to both sides. We have made a huge step toward peace."

A communiqué issued by mediators on Friday said the government agreed to present a law granting amnesty to renegade soldiers for passage in Ivory Coast's National Assembly. The government also agreed to reintegrate rebels into the army.

For their part, rebels agreed to open a humanitarian corridor through areas of north and central Ivory Coast that are under their control.

Discussions in Lome did not touch on the rebels' key political demands, which include the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo and the holding of new elections.

Mediators say these issues, along with the government's demands for the rebels' disarmament, will be taken up on Monday when talks are due to resume.

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