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W. African Leaders Try to Salvage Ivory Coast Peace - 2003-10-30

West African leaders are attempting to salvage a faltering peace process in Ivory Coast, where northern-based rebels are refusing to disarm.

Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria are meeting with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan Thursday.

Diplomats say they are trying to win concessions from Mr. Gbagbo so that a summit can be held in Ghana next month between the Ivorian leader and rebels.

Diplomats say Mr. Gbagbo will be asked to give guarantees that he will push forward legislation on nationality and land ownership, as stipulated in a French-brokered peace deal signed in January.

Rebels pulled out of a power-sharing government last month because they say the deal is not being implemented. They say they are fighting for northern Ivorians who feel like second-class citizens because the government often questions their nationality.

United Nations peace envoy Albert Tevoedjre says he has not been able to enforce the French-brokered plan, but he says what he calls discreet diplomacy has been intense.

"My job is very difficult," he said. "I cannot negotiate in the streets as I say. Many things have been done during this silent period, many many things have been done. I was in Accra myself. I saw President Kufuor. I'm sure before I go back to New York early November we will go with some proposals."

French diplomats say they are trying to get the United Nations to play a larger role in helping end the conflict. French troops are currently deployed along the line of division between rebels and the Ivorian army. Tens of thousands of French nationals continue to work in the government-held south, many of them owners of small businesses.

Peacekeepers from the former colonial power have also been sent to several rebel-held cities, where major banks have recently been robbed.

Speaking to journalists in Senegal Wednesday, rebel leader Guillaume Soro said he is preparing a social and economic summit to help residents in northern rebel-held areas.

Mr. Soro says the division of Ivory Coast since the start of the insurgency last year has made it difficult for northern Ivorians to get health care, education and jobs. He says rebels, who call themselves New Forces, are inviting regional economic leaders to the planned summit.

Mr. Soro also called on the government to reverse last month's appointment of what he called two friends of Mr. Gbagbo as interior and defense ministers. The New Forces leader said the two crucial posts should go to officials that both warring sides can accept.