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Ivory Coast Rebels Refuse President's Offer to Amend Constitution

Rebels in Ivory Coast say they will not accept an offer by President Gbagbo to change the country's constitution.

The rebels say they dismissed the offer because it was not presented formally to them as part of negotiations that are under way in Togo to end Ivory Coast's two month old rebellion.

A change to the country's constitution is among the demands that rebels have presented since they launched their initial attacks in September.

President Gbagbo on Tuesday told business leaders he wants a referendum next year in which people will decide whether to amend the constitution.

The Ivorian leader said he is not afraid of what the people will decide. He told business leaders he announced his offer to hold a referendum on the constitution in order to allow the business community to work at ease.

Analysts said the offer signaled what appeared to be a significant concession to the rebels as peace negotiations continue in the Togolese capital, Lome.

Sidiki Konate is part of the rebel delegation at the negotiations in Togo. He told VOA Wednesday the rebels believe the president's comments were intended to appease the business community in Ivory Coast, a country long considered an economic powerhouse in the West African region.

Mr. Konate said that since the offer was not put on paper and presented at the negotiations, the rebels will not consider it.

The rebel leader said that if the government wants to make a proposal, it should put its offer in writing and hand it to the mediators. That way, he said, both sides can have something concrete to work with. Mr. Konate said Mr. Gbagbo's remarks Tuesday were made in an informal fashion to business leaders. He said the president was not addressing the rebel group. Therefore, Mr. Konate said, the offer had no meaning.

Talks in Lome, now entering their fourth week, have yielded little progress thus far. The negotiations have deadlocked on issues such as the rebels' demands for President Gbagbo's resignation and new elections. Another key sticking point has been the government's insistence that rebels disarm immediately.

Mediators in Togo Wednesday were reviewing a set of proposals submitted by the rebels on Tuesday. Officials gave no details of what was contained in the rebels' offer.

A ceasefire has largely stopped the hostilities for the past month, but both sides say they are prepared to resume fighting if the negotiations in Togo fail.

Officials with the government delegation this week said they remain committed to finding a peaceful solution. But they said they cannot go on with negotiations indefinitely.

The conflict in Ivory Coast killed hundreds of people in its first four weeks. Thousands more have been displaced, including a large number of immigrant workers who have been forced to return to their countries of origin.