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Seidou Diarra Officially Named New Ivory Coast PM - 2003-02-11

In Ivory Coast, a new prime minister has officially taken up his duties, marking the first concrete step toward the implementation of a peace accord with rebels. President Laurent Gbagbo announced at a summit of West African leaders that Seidou Diarra had officially become Ivory Coast's new prime minister.

The leaders met at Yamoussoukro in an effort to begin implementation of a peace accord reached in France more than two weeks ago to end nearly five months of war.

The agreement included the naming of a new prime minister.

The appointment of Seidou Diarra had earlier caused angry protests by government supporters, who saw the move as a concession to rebels. Mr. Diarra, the former head of a national reconciliation council, is from the north of Ivory Coast, where the rebels are in control. Mr. Diarra, however, is widely regarded as being politically neutral.

In a speech on Friday, President Gbagbo said he would work in the spirit of the accord, but said he would not implement any part of it that would violate Ivory Coast's constitution. The rebels on Friday gave President Gbagbo a seven-day ultimatum to apply the agreement fully, or face new attacks.

Monday's investiture of the new prime minister marked the first concrete step toward the implementation of the accord.

President Gbagbo said Mr. Diarra has given to him a draft with a list of people who will make up a new coalition government under the terms of the agreement. Mr. Gbagbo said that list would be made public in the coming days. Diplomats say the list likely includes rebels, a prospect that touched off massive demonstrations recently by government supporters.

Rebels with the three factions who control half the country did not attend the meeting in Yamoussoukro Monday.

One of the participants, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, told VOA, the insurgents were concerned about their security. He said that was the main reason why they chose not to attend Monday's gathering.

Mr. Kufuor said he spoke with Guillaume Soro, the head of the main insurgent group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast. He said Mr. Soro told him he is willing to meet with mediators in another place for further discussions on the accord.

Western diplomats said the new prime minister is to meet with rebel leaders soon.

The war, which began with a failed coup attempt in September, has killed hundreds, and brought chaos to a country once regarded as the most prosperous and stable in West Africa.