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Ivory Coast Talks Begin in Ghana - 2003-03-06


Warring parties from Ivory Coast are meeting in Ghana to try to save their shaky peace deal. The talks are aimed at reaching a compromise on a government of national unity.

The talks in Accra are the latest bid to end the deadlock over the makeup of the unity government.

The rebels say they were promised the ministries of defense and interior at January's peace talks in France. But the Ivorian government and military say it is impossible to give the rebels such sensitive posts. Neither side has been willing to back down.

Prime Minister Seydou Diarra has said he hopes to announce his new government by early next week. He has threatened to resign, if there is no agreement by then. So, the Accra talks could be a key stage of the lengthy process.

Prime Minister Diarra is representing the Ivorian government at the Accra talks. The main rebel leader, Guillaume Soro, is also attending, along with opposition political party leaders.

Ghanaian President John Kufuor is chairing the meeting, in his role as head of the 15-nation group ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States. At the opening session, he urged the assembled leaders to put aside their differences and focus on finding a way to unite.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Kufuor said the Ivorian conflict is hurting the development of the entire region.

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo did not initially plan to attend the talks himself, but he did go to Accra to attend celebrations marking the anniversary of Ghana's independence. Diplomats hoped he might decide to take part in the meeting, if progress is made.

Meanwhile, in a separate meeting in Accra, West African military commanders called on ECOWAS to triple the number of peacekeeping troops in Ivory Coast. The Reuters news agency says the army chiefs also asked ECOWAS to provide 300 bodyguards for members of the coalition government, if one is formed.

ECOWAS has pledged more than 1,200 troops to support the peace deal. But the military leaders say nearly 3,500 are needed.

More than 3,000 French troops are also enforcing the shaky cease-fire line, which roughly divides the country in half, with the northern part under rebel control, and the southern half still in government hands.

Thousands of people have died in five-and-a-half months of fighting in Ivory Coast. The United Nations says some 400,000 people have fled into neighboring countries, and nearly twice that many have been forced out of their homes into other parts of Ivory Coast.

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