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W. African Leaders Report Progress in Ivory Coast Peace Process - 2003-10-31

West African leaders visiting Ivory Coast say progress has been made in salvaging the faltering peace process. The government and rebels have released statements raising hope a January peace accord could yet be saved.

Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria said progress had been made, following a brief meeting with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo late Thursday in Abidjan.

President Kufuor said he and Mr. Obasanjo had made suggestions to President Gbagbo about how the coalition government could move the peace process forward ahead of elections in 2005.

Government spokeswoman Victoria Wodie appeared on national television Thursday with an announcement that cheered rebel leaders. Wodie said President Laurent Gbagbo had issued instructions that the text of the January peace accord, known as Marcoussis, be swiftly put into effect by the council of ministers.

This opens up an opportunity for the implementation of the French-brokered peace deal, especially its provisions on changes in the nationality and land ownership laws aimed at broadening rights of many northern Ivorians.

However, the rebels, now known as the New Forces, must first resume their seats in the council.

The New Forces leadership withdrew from the council of ministers in September, saying President Gbagbo was not adhering to the principles of the January peace deal and was making crucial cabinet appointments without consulting them.

Rebel spokesman, Sidiki Konate, was optimistic that these latest developments offer a new opportunity for peace in Ivory Coast. "I think that [President Gbagbo's] announcement is an effective invitation for the resumption of the peace process in Ivory Coast," he said.

Ivory Coast was split in two after a rebel uprising in September, 2002. Armed rebel forces continue to hold the north of the country and few of the principles of the accord have been implemented.