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No Renegotiation of Paris Peace Deal, say Ivory Coast Rebels - 2003-02-04

Rebels in Ivory Coast say they will not renegotiate a peace deal that was agreed to last month to end a four-month war in the West African country.

Rebels with the main insurgent group have ruled out a compromise on the peace accord that was reached with the Ivory Coast government and political parties last month outside Paris.

The rebels had indicated that they might be willing to give up the defense ministry, which they say was promised to them in the agreement. But leaders of the main Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast now have said any changes to the accord are out of the question.

President Laurent Gbagbo publicly accepted the agreement at the end of the French-mediated negotiations last month. When he returned to Ivory Coast he was met with massive and sometimes violent demonstrations by Ivorians who said the agreement granted too many concessions to the rebels.

The army and political parties last week came out against the terms of the agreement, further pressuring Mr. Gbagbo not to implement the accord.

The Ivorian president has yet to address his people on what he intends to do. A much-awaited speech was postponed last week.

Speaking from rebel headquarters in the central city of Bouake, spokesman Sidiki Konate told VOA the group wants the international community to intervene.

He said the rebels believed they could not trust Laurent Gbagbo to keep his word. He said they went to negotiations in France only because the international community was involved in the talks. That, he said, was their guarantee that whatever accord was reached would be implemented.

Mr. Konate said his group is asking that the same foreign mediators who oversaw the negotiations apply sanctions on the government so it can be pressured to respect the agreement.

France, the former colonial power and largest foreign investor in Ivory Coast, has repeatedly called for Mr. Gbagbo to implement the accord. The United States joined the call Friday, saying implementation of the accord is necessary for the immediate return to peace to the country.

Meanwhile, in a scene that has become common in Abidjan, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the French embassy. As they have done repeatedly, the protesters accused France of forcing Mr. Gbagbo to sign the agreement.

The deal appears closer to collapse, with the rebels refusing to re-negotiate and the government showing no sign it is willing or able to implement the agreement.

All three factions of rebels, who together control half of the country, are due to meet Thursday in the western rebel-held city of Man. The insurgents say they will discuss what course of action they will take if the accord collapses.

Previously, the rebels warned they are ready to take over Abidjan, which has been under government control. Their advance to the main city has been stopped by thousands of French troops posted along rebel lines.