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West African Leaders Seek to Save Faltering Ivory Coast Peace Talks - 2002-12-16


West African leaders have finished meeting in Togo with representatives from the Ivory Coast government and rebels in an effort to save their faltering peace talks. More high-level talks have been scheduled over the next few days.

The West African leaders met for several hours in the northern Togo town of Kara to re-evaluate the Ivorian peace process and decide whether a new approach is needed. They did not speak to the media at the end of the talks.

But immediately afterward, several of the leaders headed for Abidjan to brief Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo on their progress. The high-powered delegation includes the leaders of Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana.

The African leaders have also scheduled a special meeting of heads of state from the regional group ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Accra, the capital of Ghana. ECOWAS has been brokering peace talks in Togo since October, but the negotiations have been deadlocked since the emergence of two new rebel groups last month.

France is sending hundreds more troops to reinforce a shaky cease-fire in its former colony, and has offered to host more peace talks in January.

The West African leaders appear to be trying to resolve the crisis themselves, before turning to France for mediation.

About 500 French troops are expected to arrive this week to reinforce the roughly 1,200 French soldiers already on the ground in Ivory Coast. The first contingent of roughly 150 paratroopers arrived in Abidjan late Saturday and deployed to the north and west of the country Sunday.

A rebel spokesman has accused the French of siding with the government in the conflict. But the French foreign minister has denied that allegation, telling a French newspaper France's only goal is to support the truce and provide stability in its former colony.

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