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Ivory Coast Peace Agreement Halted - 2004-06-04

The implementation of Ivory Coast's peace agreement, signed 18 months ago, has ground to a halt. Key provisions of the French-brokered agreement are yet to be put into operation and the power-sharing government is in disarray. Diplomatic pressure and the presence of peacekeepers are preventing renewed fighting between government soldiers and northern-based rebels.

The opposition and rebel ministers are boycotting the power-sharing government led by President Laurent Gbagbo. Three of the ministers were fired last month, including the leader of the rebels who still control the north of the country, and, for the time being, were replaced by the president's men.

Mr. Gbagbo docked the salaries of the uncooperative ministers and says he will go further and take away their cars and hotel privileges.

In Abidjan, supporters of Mr. Gbagbo, calling themselves the Young Patriots, are holding almost daily protests, demanding the United Nations disarm the rebels.

They sing their theme song with the words, ?Insurgents, we are tired!?

The protesters are also calling on Prime Minister Seydou Diarra, who is not a staunch supporter of the president, to resign.

They say the Marcoussis peace agreement, named after a Paris suburb where it was signed, is dead and, as a symbol, tote black coffins through the streets.

One man still trying to save the peace agreement and urging Prime Minister Diarra to stay in office is Albert Tevoedjre, the head of the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast.

?We are in a political situation where there are many demands,? he explained. ?They want the government to have more power. The president is retaining most of the powers and authority. They feel the agreement in Marcoussis is sharing power and opportunities. That's one thing, but number two, it is also a problem that some ministers being away for some time, the president tells them they are not doing the work for which they have been paid. So, he said some should leave the government. So, it is a big issue, but as everything in Cote d'Ivoire negotiations are under way to make sure that dialogue can resume.?

However, the political opposition in the south and the rebels in the north want no talks with President Gbagbo.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate says the president is no longer a legitimate representative, especially after the government's brutal suppression of an opposition protest last March.

?We say we are not able to discuss with the president, because he is the problem,? he said. ?He is working against the agreement that we signed 18 months ago in Paris. He's sending the young patriots and young militia on the street, in order to attack the opposition, in order to attack the U.N. representation in Abidjan, in order to attack the strangers who are living in Abidjan. That will give him the possibility to say Marcoussis cannot be applied in Ivory Coast. We have to think about another solution, but we don't see any solution outside the Marcoussis agreement.?

A U.N. report blamed Ivory Coast's highest authorities for the March violence, in which more than 100 people died.

Mr. Gbagbo said the March opposition protest was a renewed attempt by the opposition to overthrow him.

With the peace process going nowhere, only the presence of 4000 French soldiers and a U.N. peacekeeping contingent have prevented the renewed outbreak of civil war.

Sporadic violence, however, is taking place outside Abidjan. Earlier this week, a pro-Gbagbo militia in the western city of Guiglo killed a northern ethnic Mahouka, prompting authorities there to impose a curfew.

The northern rebels are also saying Mr. Gbagbo is recruiting mercenaries from neighboring Guinea to fight on his side. Those reports could not be independently verified, and both Conakry and Abidjan deny this.

Meanwhile, diplomats from neighboring countries and the African Union are in Ivory Coast trying to break the political impasse.

There is also talk of convening a meeting of African leaders, including the presidents of Nigeria and Libya, to find a political solution for Ivory Coast. Ivorians hope the African leaders can succeed where the peace agreement failed.