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Ivory Coast Opposition Resumes Peace Talks - 2004-06-29


Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo, Tuesday resumed talks with the opposition to revive the stalled peace process. But rebels who control the northern part of the country are boycotting the talks. They are also refusing to disarm as long as the peace deal signed in early 2003 is not fully implemented.

Negotiators for the main four opposition parties walked into presidential offices Tuesday to begin talks with President Gbagbo on how to breathe new life into the 18-month old French-brokered peace accord.

The talks broke off in March, just days before security forces killed more than 100 demonstrators trying to hold a pro-peace rally in Abidjan.

Since then, the opposition and rebels have been boycotting the national unity government, and Mr. Gbagbo fired three of its ministers, including rebel leader Guillaume Soro.

Presidential advisor Seri Bahy says Mr. Gbagbo wants to reinstate the power-sharing government.

"Now is the time for the president to discuss directly with them and then say OK this is what we can do in the short term period, this is what we can do in a long-term period," said Seri Bahy. "So that as soon as this is done, as soon as people have been able to unite their views, now the government can go back to work because as the president says, we cannot afford to have a government that does not function."

The opposition wants Mr. Gbagbo to delegate more power to his prime minister, Seydou Diarra, ensure better security for opposition activists in Abidjan, and show he is committed to the peace deal. The accord would give equal rights to many people in the north who are now treated as foreigners. Constitutional changes included in the agreement have been discussed by the government and parliament, and some of them even approved, but not carried out.

Rebels have said they will not attend the talks without the presence of the United Nations, which could pressure Mr. Gbagbo to implement the peace agreement. They accuse the president of holding up progress, while accumulating arms to start the war again.

The spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping mission, Jean Victor N'Kolo, said Tuesday, U.N. officials would not be participating in the talks despite the rebel demand.

"For the political talks that are happening among Ivorians, the United Nations operation is not directly involved into these talks," he said. "It will not be very wise for us to comment on that Ivorian matter."

Opposition leaders said even if the rebels do not participate, they will be informed about progress and allowed to join talks later.

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