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Ivory Coast Rebels Threaten to Pull Out from Negotiations - 2002-12-07

The discovery of a mass grave in Ivory Coast is threatening negotiations to end an escalating rebellion in the West African country. The main faction of rebels says it may pull out of peace talks.

Rebels with the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, speaking at the scene of negotiations in Togo Saturday, said they may withdraw from the talks unless mediators issue a condemnation of the latest killings.

The rebels accuse forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo of killing the people whose bodies were found in a mass grave discovered by French soldiers near the western Ivory Coast village of Monoko-Zohi late Thursday. Local residents estimate the grave contains more than 100 bodies.

The mass grave is near the scene of heavy fighting that has pitted mercenary-backed government forces against new rebel factions that have recently emerged in western Ivory Coast.

The new factions are separate from the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, whose members launched attacks in September and have been holding the north and center of the country.

The Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast's Secretary General, Guillaume Soro, lashed out at West African mediators who are brokering the peace talks, accusing them of failing to condemn the killings.

Mr. Soro said the rebels will give mediators until Monday to react and condemn the killings. Otherwise, he said, his group cannot continue discussions with the government, which he referred to as a genocidal regime.

There was no immediate response from the regional grouping, the Economic Community of West African States, which is mediating the negotiations.

Ivory Coast's government says it had nothing to do with the killings at Monoko-Zohi, which Ivorian Defense Minister Bertin Kadet said occurred in an area that is not under the control of loyalist forces. The government has instead blamed rebels.

Mr. Kadet on Saturday announced a general mobilization, starting on Tuesday, to crush the rebellion. He said the people of Ivory Coast will use all means available to fight for President Gbagbo and his government. The Defense Minister called on all Ivorian men between the ages of 20 and 26 to report to the army.

There are conflicting reports on the identities of the bodies found at Monoko-Zohi, and no official inquiry has yet begun. French military officers who are part of a buffer force in the area, say it is not part of their mandate as peacekeepers to probe the matter.

Rebels with the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast on Saturday said they have petitioned the International Court of Justice to investigate.

Peace talks, which have been going on for more than a month, have shown few signs of progress.