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Ivory Coast Rebel Leader Says He Will Not Run For President - 2004-02-11

Ivorian rebel leader Guillaume Soro has announced he will not run in presidential elections scheduled for 2005, sparking concern about a split within rebel ranks.

The announcement made late Tuesday in Dakar by Mr. Soro followed talks between the rebel leader and Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

Speaking on Senegalese television, Mr. Soro said the objective of the northern-based Ivorian rebellion, which began in late 2002, was never about personal ambitions. He said he hopes all candidates will be allowed to run in 2005, and that all Ivorians will have the right to vote.

In the 2000 election, popular northern Muslim politician and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara was barred from running because of doubts about his nationality. Many northerners considered foreigners were denied voting cards.

With Mr. Soro dropping out of the race, Ivorian media and analysts speculate the most likely rebel candidate will be Ibrahim Coulibaly, a former army sergeant from the north, who staged a coup in 1999, ending four decades of stability in Ivory Coast.

At present, Mr. Coulibaly is in France under investigation for allegedly preparing another coup. He has said repeatedly he, not Mr. Soro, is the real leader of the rebels.

He accused a faction close to Mr. Soro of assassinating an allied rebel commander outside a nightclub Sunday in the northern city of Korhogo. Mr. Coulibaly also said he opposes the disarmament of rebels, as long as militias close to President Laurent Gbagbo remain armed.

A top aide to Mr. Soro, Mamadou Togba, says Mr. Coulibaly is not a member of the New Forces, as the rebels call themselves, even though in many parts of the north he is revered as a hero.

He says Mr. Coulibaly needs to join the New Forces, instead of meddling in its affairs from outside.

He also says it is too early to talk about the elections or the end of the rebellion, because nothing in a January peace plan has been implemented, including expanding nationality and voting rights to many northerners.

Rebels remain armed and in control of the north, and indications of deepening rivalries among rebels is worrying French peacekeepers who are trying to organize the disarmament process.