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Ivory Coast Rebels Wait for Word From Talks After Deadline Expires - 2003-02-17

Rebels with Ivory Coast's main insurgent group say they will not resume attacks immediately, despite the expiration of an ultimatum that they issued to the government more than a week ago.

Rebels said they are waiting for word following a round of consultations between insurgent leaders and government officials of West African nations.

Leaders of the main group, the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast, were in Nigeria Monday starting what they said is a tour to drum up regional support for the implementation of a peace accord that was reached in France last month.

The rebels claim the agreement entitles them to key positions in a new government that is being set up in keeping with the accord. They met Friday in Ghana with Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, who is charged with compiling a draft proposal for the new unity government.

The government of President Laurent Gbagbo has strongly opposed granting key positions to the rebels. No breakthrough was announced following the rebels' meeting with Mr. Diarra on Friday.

Rebel leaders on February 7 issued a one-week ultimatum to the government, saying they would resume attacks if the accord was not immediately implemented.

Following the expiration of the ultimatum, however, they said they would not attack immediately. Instead, the leader of one western faction, the Ivorian Patriotic Movement of the Far West, on Monday said insurgents would wait to see what would emerge from the meetings between insurgents and various West African governments.

Rebel leaders said they expected to meet with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Monday. They then planned to travel to other nations in the region.

Fighting has been largely on hold for months following the signing of a cease-fire. More than three thousand French troops are in Ivory Coast to enforce the cease-fire. Hundreds of French soldiers are positioned along the rebel lines.

The rebels, who quickly took over half the country following the start of their insurrection in September, have complained the French presence is the only thing stopping them from advancing on the main city, Abidjan.

Rebel supporters in the insurgent stronghold of Bouake rallied on Monday, calling on the French to step aside and allow their forces through.