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Ivory Coast Rebels Pledge to Uphold Cease-Fire - 2004-06-08


Northern-based rebels in Ivory Coast say they will not retaliate against a government attack on their positions Monday. Meanwhile, the rebels blame President Laurent Gbagbo for violent protests against French foreigners and U.N. peacekeepers

The attack by government helicopters followed, what the army says was, an incursion by rebels into government territory earlier in the day.

Rebels say five of their men were injured by helicopter gunfire and were taken to a hospital in the northern stronghold of Bouake.

Rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate says the New Forces will not respond, but that the cease-fire which has been holding since May of last year is very tenuous.

"They broke the cease-fire," he said. "That is the question and we are now meeting in Bouake. We first told our troops to have control because they wanted to react but we say they have to wait and we are waiting for a serious reaction of the international forces."

Mr. Konate, who accuses Mr. Gbagbo of trying to provoke renewed war, says he believes it is no coincidence there was also unrest Monday in Abidjan. Mr. Gbagbo, who is currently on a private visit to the United States, says "There are no reasons for Mr. Gbagbo to be out of the country and I think he is out of the country because he planned disorder, he planned chaos in Ivory Coast so he's just outside because something has to go on in Ivory Coast. We all see now the Act One of what is going on."

There was a heavy police presence throughout Abidjan, after the French embassy was attacked Monday and more than 30 vehicles belonging to the U.N. mission were torched by Gbagbo supporters. They accused French and U.N. peacekeeping troops of allowing the incursion by northern fighters into government territory.

At a rally in Abidjan, the leader of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots, Charles Ble Goude, also condemned the rioting, saying it was caused by what he called uncontrollable elements. However, he told VOA he was planning new protest actions.

"Now we forbid all the vehicles belonging to the U.N. and the French forces to circulate in the city. To tell to French forces, we are planning a sit-in, a non-violent sit-in is coming Thursday at the military camp of the French forces here in Abidjan," he said.

Supporters of Mr. Gbagbo have also called on French and U.N. forces immediately to disarm rebels so Ivory Coast can be re-united. Rebels who say they are fighting to give equal rights to northerners began their insurgency in September 2002.

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