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Ivory Coast PM Threatens Resignation Amid Deadlocked Negotiations - 2003-03-04

Peace negotiations in Ivory Coast have suffered a setback with the threatened resignation of the consensus prime minister, Seydou Diarra.

The prime minister of Ivory Coast said he will resign if the government and rebel leaders do not agree on a national unity government by next week.

Prime Minister Seydou Diarra made the threat after failing to bridge differences in a meeting Monday with rebel leaders at their stronghold in the northern town of Bouake.

The rebels continue to insist on taking over the defense and interior ministries they say they were promised during peace negotiations in France in January.

President Laurent Gbagbo has rejected that proposal, and has suggested that neutral bureaucrats occupy the key security posts. Also, the army says it would never serve under rebel leadership.

President Gbagbo signed the French-mediated peace deal almost six weeks ago, though he later said he would abide by its spirit but not its details.

Prime Minister Diarra is a career diplomat, but he says the impasse has drained his strength and his imagination.

Mr. Diarra was named to his post under terms of the peace accord in order to form a government of national reconciliation.

Diplomatic sources who had forecast an imminent breakthrough in the stalemate two weeks ago now say they share the prime minister's gloom.

About 3,000 French troops remain in Ivory Coast to monitor a cease-fire and protect foreigners. There have been reports of renewed fighting in western Ivory Coast, where two small rebel factions are based.

The Ivorian conflict erupted in September after a failed coup attempt. Hundreds of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.