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Second Round of Ivory Coast Peace Talks Expected to be Difficult - 2002-11-04


Ivory Coast government officials and rebels are set to resume peace talks in Togo.

The second round of peace talks between Ivory Coast government officials and a rebel delegation promised to be difficult as both sides prepared to discuss the thorniest of issues.

On the agenda this week will be the rebels' political demands. The rebels want President Laurent Gbagbo to resign and they are asking for new elections within six months.

Equally difficult is the issue of disarmament. The government has insisted that rebels lay down their weapons before further negotiations.

Hopes of finding a peaceful solution grew Friday, when both sides reached their first agreement. In Friday's accord, the government agreed to pursue amnesty for renegade soldiers. The rebels committed to opening routes in order to facilitate the transport of humanitarian supplies in the areas they occupy.

But during a two-day break from talks, rebels said they would offer no compromise when it would come to discussing disarmament and their demands for Mr. Gbagbo's resignation.

Guillaume Soro, the head of the rebels' political wing, told a large group of supporters Sunday in the insurgent stronghold of Bouake that his group would break an ongoing cease-fire and resume the war if the government did not meet the rebels' political demands.

The rebels, Mr. Soro said, would never accept disarmament.

West African negotiators mediating the talks in the Togolese capital, Lome, said they were surprised by Mr. Soro's comments.

The rebellion in Ivory Coast has killed hundreds of people and left the country divided. Since the rebels' initial attacks on September 19, the north and center have come under rebel control, while the government retains power in the south and west.

Analysts have warned the conflict is doing serious damage to the economy, saying the conflict is threatening cocoa and cotton harvests. Ivory Coast is the world's main producer of cocoa.

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