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Ivory Coast President Drafts New Peace Plan - 2002-12-24

The president of Ivory Coast has drafted a new peace plan he hopes will end the country's three month old civil war.

A spokesman for President Laurent Gbagbo described the new 10-point peace plan as a break from previous proposals to end the war in Ivory Coast.

Before officially releasing it to the public, the Ivorian leader has sent representatives to brief U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as the presidents of France, Senegal and Togo all key players in attempts to negotiate a political solution to the crisis.

According to draft copies of the plan seen by news agencies, Mr. Gbagbo is proposing a new government of national unity, and a referendum on three issues important to the rebels eligibility for the presidency, land ownership laws, and nationality.

But the rebels' key demand has been for President Gbagbo to step down and call new elections. That is not part of his plan.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, rebel leader Felix Doh of the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Far West insisted that there will be no deal while Mr. Gbagbo remains in office.

The three factions reiterated their demands Monday in a rare joint statement, issued after their leaders met in the rebel stronghold of Bouake.

The rebels also warned French troops that they would consider any future attacks on rebel forces to be "a declaration of war." They said if the French fire on any rebel positions, the insurgents will launch a full scale assault on all fronts.

French troops on Saturday halted a rebel advance near the western city of Duekoue. Rebel leaders say six of their men were killed in the clashes, and initially accused the French of siding with the government.

But two of the rebel groups, operating in western Ivory Coast, have now issued a new statement backing away from their original hard line stance.

The rebels now say the incident at Duekoue was caused by a "misunderstanding" that did nothing to jeopardize their future relationship with France.

France has insisted it will not take sides in the war in its former colony. France has deployed roughly 1,500 troops in Ivory Coast, and plans to expand its force to 2,500 in the next few weeks. Their mission is to protect foreign nationals, to enforce a tattered cease-fire and to help stabilize the country.

The rebellion began in September as a military uprising in the commercial capital Abidjan. The main rebel group now holds most of the northern half of the country. Two new rebel groups have now emerged in the West, taking control of several key cities.