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Ivory Coast Peace Talks Continue as Both Sides Claim Cease-Fire Breaches - 2003-01-17


Talks to end a four-month-old rebel war in Ivory Coast are due to continue in Paris, after the government and the rebels accused each other Thursday of violating a cease-fire agreement.

The exchange of accusations was seen by some observers as an attempt by either side to derail the negotiations, which were entering their third day Friday at a sports complex outside Paris.

Ivory Coast's Defense Minister said Thursday the rebels had broken a cease-fire accord by firing heavy artillery at army positions in the west of the country.

The rebels responded by accusing loyalist forces of attacking their positions.

French peacekeepers who are charged with enforcing the cease-fire dispatched a team of soldiers to the region to investigate. They reported there had been some light gunfire in the area, as part of what they said had been no more than a scuffle.

French army officers said there was no evidence that heavy artillery had been used and no reason to believe the cease-fire had been violated.

Before they were confirmed to be false, the reports of heavy fighting in Ivory Coast, the world's top producer of cocoa, caused concern the talks in France might be endangered. Cocoa prices jumped in London and New York.

The negotiations among the Ivory Coast government, political parties, and the rebels continued behind closed doors Thursday, and officials said they would resume as scheduled on Friday.

The talks, brokered by the former colonial power, France, are part of an effort to end a nearly four-month old rebel war that has killed hundreds, in a country that was until recently considered a model of stability in West Africa.

Three rebel factions went into the talks demanding the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo and new elections. Mr. Gbagbo has said he will not resign and is demanding that the rebels disarm.

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