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New Efforts to Push Ivory Coast Peace - 2004-06-20

Efforts are intensifying to revive the stalled peace process in Ivory Coast. The issue is expected to be discussed at a summit of the Economic Community of West African States in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and ambassadors of U.N. Security Council countries are also expected to work on the issue as they start a a ten-day regional tour.

At the summit in Abuja, Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo is meeting with his regional counterparts to discuss the political crisis that has halted implementation of an 18-month old peace agreement.

Political tensions have been on the rise in Ivory Coast since a government crackdown at a peace demonstration in March led to many civilian deaths. The United Nations says at least 120 people were killed. In response, many of the opposition and rebel leaders pulled out of the national unity government.

Ivory Coast used to be viewed as the anchor of stability in the volatile West African region. But these recent developments have caused concern that just as several of its neighbors are beginning to rebuild from decades of war, Ivory Coast's short civil war, which ended two years ago, might resume.

It is not clear exactly what President Gbagbo's counterparts at the West African summit in Abuja might be able to do to help.

Meanwhile, ambassadors of 14 of the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council are starting a visit to the area, with Ivory Coast high on their agenda.

According to U.N. spokesman Jean-Victor Nkolo, the Council spends a great deal of its time focusing on West African issues.

"They will be starting here in Accra, Ghana," he said. "That is the seat of the current chair of the ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States. This is a very important mission. The overall purpose really is to see how peace and security can be reinforced in the sub-region."

Mr. Nkolo, speaking from Accra, says the West African region needs to be assessed as a whole because the national borders are porous and many of the security risks can spill across.

"Each conflict is somehow linked to factors that go beyond the borders of each country," he said. "That in itself has instigated the Security Council to go throughout the situation where they could visit the key stakeholders of various individual conflicts in the sub-region and see how they can further assess and help the countries in the sub-region as well as the ECOWAS. And, to also see how in the case of Cote d'Ivoire, for instance, the monitoring committee as well as the United Nations operation are assisting and can be further assisted in helping Ivorians to reach a lasting peace."

The U.N. Security Council delegation is expected to arrive in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan on Tuesday to discuss issues of disarmament and political concerns in an effort to help get the peace process moving again.