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Ivory Coast Military to Accept Rebels in New Government, Some Differences Remain - 2003-02-19

The Ivory Coast military says it is willing to accept rebels in a new coalition government being formed as part of a plan to end a five-month civil war.

In published remarks, army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jules Yao Yao said the army would accept having rebels in a new coalition government.

But he said the army would not agree to having them take the key defense and interior ministries, which rebels say they are entitled to under the terms of a peace accord reached last month in France.

The statement marks a significant departure from the army's previous position. Army officers earlier rejected giving the rebels a role in a new government and called the peace accord humiliating.

The army spokesman said accepting the rebels would be a price to pay for peace.

Observers in Abidjan say they hope the army's statement would mean progress in getting the government of President Laurent Gbagbo to implement a peace deal that calls for creation of a coalition government.

People in Ivory Coast are awaiting word of whether he will accept a proposal for a new government that is being prepared by newly appointed Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, who is in Paris for the Franco-African summit.

Mr. Gbagbo has said he accepts only the spirit of the accord, but has not committed to accepting its full terms.

The government last month orchestrated massive protests in which Gbagbo supporters called for annulment of the peace agreement, which protesters said granted too many concessions to the rebels.

The protests targeted France, which protesters accused of pressuring Mr. Gbagbo to accept the peace accord. The protesters attacked French-owned businesses and institutions in Abidjan, prompting hundreds to flee Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, anti-French flared again, when scores of Gbagbo supporters demonstrated outside a French military base in Abidjan. Earlier, the leader of a pro-Gbagbo youth group accused French peacekeepers of transiting Abidjan illegally.

More than 3,000 French troops are in Ivory Coast to enforce a cease-fire between loyalist troops and rebels.

The war in Ivory Coast has killed hundreds and damaged the economy of a country that produces more than 40 percent of the world's cocoa.