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Ivory Coast Peace Talks Continue Amid Paris News Blackout - 2003-01-16

Representatives of the Ivory Coast's government and rebel groups remain behind closed doors in a suburb of Paris, looking for a solution to the country's four-month-old civil war. The war has killed hundreds, displaced thousands, and threatened the stability of the West African region.

The Ivorian factions are meeting in France's new national rugby center outside Paris. There is a news blackout, and information about the talks is supposed to come only from the French Foreign Ministry. So far, there is no information.

The French government made sure all the parties showed up for the talks, even flying rebel leaders to Paris in French military aircraft, and may be working hard to mediate an agreement, although France's Foreign Minister said it is up to the Ivory Coast factions to end the war.

Analysts in Paris say France is trying to avoid the impression that it is dictating a solution to the rebellion in its former colony. Rather than a government official, a former official is chairing the talks, and they have been moved out of the imposing meeting halls of Paris.

France's relationship with the Ivory Coast is again being publicly debated. The cover of a news magazine says "Ivory Coast - between chaos and colonialism". France wants to avoid either outcome.

Before the news blackout, Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara said some sort of power-sharing arrangement is possible as a temporary measure, until new elections can be held. But the representative of the main rebel faction, Guillaume Soro, said a government of national unity was, "not the order of the day".

The government of President Laurent Gbagbo has said his victory in the 2000 election gives him a mandate to govern until 2005.

The talks are scheduled to continue until January 24.