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UN Investigates Ivory Coast Clashes - 2003-03-10

The U.N. special representative in Ivory Coast is investigating a recent outbreak of violence in the west of the country that could endanger a power-sharing agreement reached Saturday.

French peacekeepers have confirmed there was heavy fighting around the rebel-held town of Bangolo, but it is still not entirely clear who was responsible for the clashes.

The rebels in the area say the town was attacked Friday by pro-government militia and Liberian fighters who killed many civilians. The government military spokesman denies that his troops were involved in the fighting, although he confirms that clashes did take place in the area.

The rebels claim there were a large number of civilian casualties during the alleged pro-government attack. A French military spokesman initially confirmed that, but now is refusing to comment any further. The spokesman says the French military has made a report on the incident to the U.N. committee monitoring the peace process, headed by Albert Tevoedjre.

Mr. Tevoedjre met with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo Monday to discuss the violence and recent developments in the peace process.

Rebel and government representatives reached a power-sharing agreement Saturday at talks in Ghana. The deal was signed by rebels, political parties and Mr. Gbagbo's prime minister.

It represents a compromise on the contested ministries of defense and interior, which the rebels had previously said they were entitled to under the terms of an earlier peace deal, but which Mr. Gbagbo refused to give them.

Under the new deal, the rebels gave up their claim on the two key Cabinet posts in exchange for two different posts in the new unity government, including the communications ministry.

If he agrees to the deal, President Gbagbo would give up his right to veto the prime minister's choices for the Cabinet posts. The agreement sets up a 15-member security council to approve those appointments instead, drawn from the ruling party, opposition parties, rebel groups and the military.