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UN, Local Factions Welcome US Support for Ivory Coast Peacekeepers - 2004-02-18

United Nations officials, rebels and the ruling party in Ivory Coast have welcomed U.S. support for a United Nations force of 6,000 peacekeepers in the divided west African country.

U.N. special representative in Ivory Coast Albert Tevoedjre says the troops will help lay the groundwork for the disarmament of rebels and pro-government militias.

He says the peacekeeping contingent could help the U.N. mission in neighboring Liberia, where more than 10,000 peacekeepers are already deployed, but disarmament has yet to begin.

"We welcome very much that decision by the U.S. to support the operation in Cote d'Ivoire," said Mr. Tevoedjre. "It is very important for this operation to complement the efforts that have already been made in Liberia, for example. It is difficult to envisage any peace enforcement in Liberia without any complimentary effort in Cote d'Ivoire."

U.N. officials have warned that arms and mercenaries have continued to cross the border both ways in recent months.

Despite the presence of several thousand soldiers from the former colonial power France in Ivory Coast, northern-based rebels have refused to disarm and a French-brokered peace deal signed last year has yet to be implemented.

After saying for weeks that a U.N. force was not necessary in Ivory Coast, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte reversed course on Tuesday, saying that the U.S. administration is now in favor of the plan. He said the White House asked Congress last week to free up funds for the mission. The United States pays 27 percent of the U.N.'s peacekeeping budget.

Ivorian rebels said they are happy the peacekeepers will be arriving to help the U.N. carry out its mission of preparing free and fair elections in 2005.

A ruling party official, Miaka Oureto, also welcomed the U.N. troops. Mr. Oureto said despite the best efforts of the Ivorian government and the French, the country remains divided. He said he hopes the U.N. peacekeepers will lead to the disarmament of rebels throughout the region.