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Ivory Coast Peace Talks Frozen; Rebels Refuse to Return to Negotiations

Peace talks aimed at ending a rebellion in Ivory Coast remain on hold, with rebels saying they will not return to the negotiations unless they are allowed to bring their political demands to the table.

Rebel leaders said they would not go back to talks, unless the Ivory Coast government assures them it will listen to what they say are their most important demands. These include the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo and the holding of new elections.

The rebels were to have begun their second round of talks with government officials on Monday in Togo. Togolese mediators announced the talks were to postponed for at least a day, after the rebel leaders failed to return from what was supposed to have been a two-day break.

Speaking at the rebel stronghold city of Bouake, Ivory Coast, Guillaume Soro, the head of the insurgent group's political wing, said he believes the government delegation does not want to listen to the rebels' political grievances. Mr. Soro said he and other negotiators had remained in Bouake to consult with the rank-and-file members of the rebel group.

Laurent Dona Fologo, the head of the government delegation, said he and his colleagues are committed to finding a peaceful solution, and were prepared to wait for the rebels to return to the talks.

Both sides reached a partial accord on Friday, in which the government agreed to pursue amnesty for renegade soldiers. The rebels committed to opening routes to facilitate the transport of humanitarian supplies in the areas they occupy.

Neither the political demands nor the equally thorny issue of the government's calls for the rebels to disarm were addressed in the first round of talks last week.

The rebels have repeatedly said disarmament is out of the question.

The rebellion in Ivory Coast has killed hundreds of people, and left the country divided in two. 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.

Fighting has been on hold since a cease-fire went into effect last month. French troops have been monitoring the truce. A multi-national force of West African peacekeepers is due to replace the French soldiers in the coming weeks.