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Ivory Coast Rebels Demand Control of Key Ministries - 2003-02-24


Political tensions are rising in Ivory Coast, as senior officials discuss how to bring rebel representatives into a national unity government.

The divided country of Ivory Coast is awaiting an announcement from its political leaders about the composition of the new government.

The new prime minister, Seydou Diarra, has been holding secret talks with President Laurent Gbagbo on giving Cabinet seats to rebel representatives, under a peace accord mediated by France.

Mr. Diarra returned to Abidjan on Sunday from Paris, where he met rebel officials and opposition leaders, following the Franco-African summit in the French capital.

The rebels are demanding the defense and interior ministries, but the army says it will not serve under rebel leadership, and major political parties also oppose the idea.

Commanders of rebel factions in western Ivory Coast say they will resume fighting if the defense and interior portfolios are not handed over. They say they were promised the positions in the peace agreement brokered by France in January.

There also remains the threat of renewed urban violence in the commercial capital, Abidjan, if President Gbagbo relents, and lets the rebels take over the two important ministries.

President Gbagbo's supporters recently went on an anti-French rampage, following accusations that the former colonial power was forcing the president to accept rebels in his government.

Fighting along ethnic and religious lines broke out in Ivory Coast in September, following a failed coup attempt. The mostly Muslim north is now under rebel control, while the Christian and animist south is held by government forces.

About 3,000 French troops are monitoring a cease-fire. France has agreed to provide more military support, along with West African nations, if a national unity government is formed.

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