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Ivory Coast Reconciliation Government Meets

The reconciliation government in Ivory Coast has met for the first time in a northern rebel-held zone while pushing forward with a difficult power-sharing peace process.

Almost all the ministers in the reconciliation government took part in the meetings in the northern rebel stronghold of Bouake.

Three ministers close to President Laurent Gbagbo and several others chose not to attend, saying they had other engagements. Since it was strictly a meeting of government ministers, President Gbagbo was not there either.

For those who were present, rebel spokesman Amadou Kone says security was not a problem.

Mr. Kone says everyone who took part was relaxed and overjoyed by the reception of Bouake residents. He says thousands of people lined the streets from the airport to the hotel where the meetings took place.

Members of the government also met with northern traditional chiefs and civic groups to discuss a return to normalcy after eight months of civil war.

The country remains divided, and in the north government services have been shut down since the start of the conflict.

Efforts are being made to restore road and rail links between the south and the north, but in the southern city of Abidjan, young militants opposed to the power-sharing agreement damaged several sections of train tracks.

One of the protesters, Armand Belga, said it is too early to resume train services.

"The situation of Ivory Coast does not allow to take too many risks," he said. "It is with the train that the rebels came to Ivory Coast. And we can not let the train start again if they still have weapons."

Mr. Belga accused Burkina Faso of being behind the rebels. Before the conflict, the train operated from Abidjan through northern Ivory Coast to the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou.

A demonstration is being planned Saturday in Abidjan to call for the immediate disarmament of rebels.