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Efforts Underway to Revive Ivory Coast Peace Talks


Diplomatic efforts are being pursued in several west African countries to try to help revive the stalled peace process in divided Ivory Coast. But rebels are seeking guarantees before they take part in negotiations with the Ivorian government.

Negotiators with the Economic Community of West African states, known as ECOWAS, are trying to organize a meeting between the Ivorian government and rebels in Ghana later this week.

The aim of the meeting would be to convince the rebels to rejoin a power-sharing government that they pulled out of in September, after accusing President Laurent Gbagbo of blocking a French-mediated peace deal.

To return to the government, rebel leaders say they want to see indications that the January peace deal, which includes giving voting rights to many northern Ivorians, will finally be implemented.

Rebel leader Cisse Sendou says Ivorian Prime Minister Seydou Diarra must be given more power, including the right to enact new laws, as stipulated in the peace accord. Mr. Sendou said that as long as President Gbagbo has all the power, peace will be impossible in Ivory Coast.

To rejoin the government, rebels say they also want guarantees for their safety in the government-held south, the reopening of state schools in the rebel-held north and the naming of consensus ministers for the posts of security and defense.

Rebels say a summit of west African leaders in Ghana last week failed because none of these issues was being addressed.

Togo's President Gnassingbe Eyadema has also been trying to help with mediation efforts. After meeting Friday with Ivorian President Gbagbo in Abidjan, he met with rebel leaders in Togo on Sunday. Mr. Eyadema says it is crucial for all of West Africa that peace return to Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer.

There were also meetings Friday and Saturday in Burkina Faso, involving the Ivorian prime minister and the main rebel leader, Guillaume Soro.

In Gabon, French diplomats are quoted as saying a meeting is being prepared for later this week in the capital, Libreville, between Mr. Gbagbo and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

The Ivorian president has called for rebels to disarm and rejoin the power-sharing government to prevent a renewed war.

Fighting between rebels and the army ended in Ivory Coast last year after French troops deployed in their former colony. But aid workers in the rebel-held west say there has been violence there in recent weeks between ethnic communities, leading to several killings and population flights.

The rebels have controlled the north of Ivory Coast and parts of the west since an insurgency in September 2002.

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