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Fighting Erupts in Ivory Coast Despite Cease-fire Deal - 2003-05-03

Fighting has broken out in western Ivory Coast, just hours before a new cease-fire is to take effect for the entire country. Rebels say areas under their control have been attacked. Government officials blamed rebels for initiating the fighting. The rebels say they believe the cease-fire can still hold and that peace can return after seven months of conflict.

In Abidjan Saturday morning, representatives for the rebels and the Ivorian army signed a new cease-fire to end fighting across Ivory Coast.

Army spokesman Patrice Kouassi announced the deal that is to take effect Sunday.

"Michel Gueu who signed for the rebels says that contrary to previous cease-fires, this one covers all of Ivory Coast," he said.

Mr. Gueu also says French and African peacekeeping troops already on the ground will now help enforce security in western Ivory Coast, near the border with Liberia.

Recent clashes there have involved Liberian mercenaries fighting for both sides, but who are now refusing efforts for peace. Fighting has also spilled over from Liberia's own civil war.

Despite the new deal in Abidjan, rebels say, Liberians fighting for government forces attacked some of their positions in the area of the western town of Danane on Saturday.

Rebel spokesman Antoine Beugre spoke to VOA from rebel headquarters in the northern city of Bouake, describing the renewed fighting.

But Mr. Beugre says he does not believe what he calls last minute fighting will endanger the cease-fire, since the agreement was signed by all parties in the seven-month Ivorian war.

The new deal also calls for the freedom of movement of goods, civilians, aid workers and government officials between rebel and government-held areas.

Ivory Coast has been effectively divided in two since the rebels began their insurgency in September. Other obstacles to peace include finalizing a power-sharing reconciliation government between rebels, the opposition and the party of President Laurent Gbagbo.