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Powell Discusses African Regional Conflicts with Senegalese Counterpart - 2003-10-29

Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed African issues, including peace efforts in Sudan, Liberia and Ivory Coast Wednesday with Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio.

Mr. Powell, who returned late last week from his fourth trip to Africa as secretary of state, met for a half hour with his Senegalese counterpart for what Mr. Gadio said was a wide-ranging review of African issues focussing on efforts to resolve regional conflicts including the slow-moving peace process in Ivory Coast.

A French-brokered agreement to end the civil war in Ivory Coast that broke out last year was signed in January. But the country remains geographically split between the rebel-held north and government-controlled south despite formation of a power-sharing reconciliation government.

In a talk with reporters after meeting Mr. Powell, the Senegalese foreign minister said he and the secretary shared a sense of frustration about the pace of events in the once-prosperous West African state.

"The U.S. was involved in Ivory Coast with us from the beginning, and last year we got a cease-fire. And since then we have been working very closely," he said. "The problem is we are all frustrated with the slow pace, how things are coming together in Cote d'Ivoire. And hopefully if we try and do something, launch some new initiative, perhaps we'll get to what we want in Cote d'Ivoire: a peaceful transition and national conciliation. Because this used to be a beautiful country, a very peaceful country. And unfortunately, it's been in this situation for the last year and a half."

Rebel ministers suspended their participation in the coalition government last month, accusing President Laurent Gbagbo of undermining the peace accord. The State Department expressed concern about the move, and Tuesday, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner appealed to the international community to press the sides in Ivory Coast to hold fast to the French-brokered plan.

Mr. Gadio said the situation in Liberia has improved considerably since the arrival of U.N. peacekeeping troops and the seating of an interim government to succeed exiled President Charles Taylor. But he warned the country could lapse back into civil warfare without an international commitment to rebuild the country.

"We are doing much better in Liberia now," stressed Mr. Gadio. "But we have to remember that we went through this before, ten years ago, and then we fell back into a civil war again. So this time around we all have to keep the pressure. And I truly hope that the U.S. will take the lead in helping rebuild Liberia. It's good to secure peace and a transition, a political transition. But it's better to rebuild Liberia, so we will not go back to what we already know."

Mr. Gadio said his government is following the activities of Charles Taylor in his refuge in Nigeria very closely and with extreme care. Assistant Secretary Kansteiner said here Tuesday that the ability of Mr. Taylor to influence events in Liberia declines with each day he is out of the country. But he said his Nigerian hosts need to "keep a very tight eye on him" and insure that he is following ground-rules barring him from meddling in affairs of the transitional government in Monrovia.