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Progress Reported at Ivory Coast Peace Talks - 2003-03-07

There has been significant progress at Ivory Coast peace talks being held in Ghana. The rebels have agreed to abandon their claim on two key cabinet posts in the new unity government. But the deadlock is not entirely broken.

Ghanaian Foreign Minister Hackman Owusu-Agyeman told reporters that in the interest of peace, the rebels have agreed to give up their claim on the ministries of defense and interior. But he says they are only willing to do so if, in his words, they are given something reasonable in exchange.

Further details of the compromise are not available, and the deal still has to be approved by Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who is not taking part in the talks.

The rebels say they were promised the two key cabinet posts at January's peace talks in France, where all sides signed a deal agreeing to stop fighting and form a government of national unity. But the deal sparked anti-French violence in Abidjan, when pro-government supporters rampaged through the city, accusing their former colonial power of forcing Mr. Gbagbo to accept it.

Since then, the Ivorian government and military have said it is not possible to give the rebels control of the defense and interior ministries. Neither side was willing to back down before they met Thursday in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

The preliminary breakthrough came during all-night talks chaired by Ghana's president, John Kufuor, who chairs the 15-nation regional group ECOWAS. Delegates hope to reach a final agreement during a second day of talks Friday.

Ivory Coast's new prime minister, Seydou Diarra, is representing the government at the Accra meeting, which also includes the country's opposition political parties. The leader of the main rebel group in the north, Guillaume Soro, is participating, along with high-level representatives of the two Western rebel factions.

The Ivory Coast conflict has threatened to destabilize the West African region. Thousands of people have been killed in five-and-one-half months of fighting. The United Nations says roughly a million people have been forced out of their homes, some into neighboring countries.