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CENSAD Accepts 4 New Members - 2004-05-16

The regional group of Sahel and Saharan States known as CENSAD welcomed four new West African member states at the close of the group's summit in Mali.

The conference host, Mali's President Amadi Toumani Toure, announced the admission of the new members as the meeting ended. The countries expanding CENSAD's reach into West Africa are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, and Liberia.

The summit was billed as a forum for discussing regional approaches to such issues as terrorism and conflict resolution. And President Toure said there was discussion of creating a regional water authority, and of uniting to fight what he called all forms of extremism.

But during opening remarks Saturday, Libyan leader and founder of CENSAD, Muammar Gaddafi focused the meeting on the political situation in Ivory Coast. He criticized what he called 'foreign intervention' in the country and said the international community should allow President Gbagbo to restore peace.

President Gbagbo has faced international pressure since a U.N. investigation into his crackdown on a pro-peace demonstration in March. The report condemned violations of human rights in the crackdown, which it blamed on senior officials. The U.N. investigators put the death toll as high as 120. The Ivorian government says 37 people were killed.

U.N. spokesman in Ivory Coast, Jean-Victor N'Kolo, says the international community is not trying to interfere, but rather was invited to the country by Mr. Gbagbo himself to help prepare for elections scheduled for late next year.

"We, the United Nations and more specifically the United Nations operation in Cote d'Ivoire, we are here at the invitation of the head of a sovereign state," he said. "So, there is no interference as such but there is rather a running towards a sovereign entity that requested assistance and help in order for them to be supported throughout the peace process up to the elections."

At the conference in Mali, President Gaddafi called on all African nations to resolve their own internal conflicts