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Ivory Coast Rebels Put Forces on High Alert - 2002-12-09


Ivory Coast rebels say they are putting their forces on high alert, as they decide whether to remain in peace negotiations with the government. The rebels are reconsidering their position, after a mass grave was discovered, which the rebels say is evidence of a government massacre.

Rebels of the Patriotic Movement for Ivory Coast, who control the center and north of the country, on Monday renewed their threats to quit the the five-week-old negotiations.

The rebels accuse the government of President Gbagbo of carrying out the killing of people, whose bodies were found in a mass grave near the western Ivory Coast village of Monoko-Zohi. The rebels warned on Saturday they would pull out of negotiations, unless West African mediators condemn the Ivory Coast government for the killings at Monoko-Zohi. The government denies the charge.

Speaking at the scene of the talks in Togo Monday, the insurgent group's secretary general, Guillaume Soro, warned his forces may resume attacks soon.

Mr. Soro said rebel troops have been put on maximum alert. He said that for now, the insurgents have not declared a resumption of hostilities. But he said he wants it known that rebels believe the government has on several occasions violated a cease-fire agreement.

The cease-fire reached in October had largely held until late last month, when new factions of rebels, separate from the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, launched attacks, and captured several key western towns near the Liberian border. Government forces, backed by foreign mercenaries, launched a series of attacks on rebel targets. Hundreds have been killed in the attacks.

As rebels warned of possible new attacks, the Gbagbo government prepared to launch a general mobilization to fight the rebels. On Saturday, the country's defense minister called for all men between the ages of 20 and 26 to report to the army starting on Tuesday.

The chief mediator of the peace talks, Togolese President Ngassingbe Eyadema, traveled to Ivory Coast's political capital, Yamoussoukro, Monday, and met with President Gbagbo.

Officials of the London-based human rights group Amnesty International on Monday called the news of the mass grave and the rising death toll in the conflict alarming. The group has dispatched a team to the rebel-held areas of northern Ivory Coast, and officials say a visit to the gravesite will likely be on the agenda.

Amnesty's George Ngwa, speaking from London, said the mission was planned before the grave was discovered. He said the discovery of the mass grave is yet another sign that atrocities are being committed.

"We have been concerned, since the beginning of the crisis, with the widespread abuse of rights by both sides, by government troops and by the rebel troops. We are concerned that, if steps are not taken to arrest the situation, it will get worse," he said.

Amnesty's mission will focus on alleged atrocities committed in rebel-held territory. The group dispatched a team in October to check on the human rights situation in government-held areas. A report has not been released yet.

The escalation of violence in Ivory Coast has raised fears of the onset of widespread civil war in the relatively prosperous country, which is considered an economic powerhouse in the region.

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