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Ivory Coast's Peace Process Runs Into Snags


Ivory Coast's northern rebels accuse the government of spoiling for war, throwing yet another obstacle into the stalled disarmament process.

The leader of the New Forces rebels, Guillaume Soro, says a weapons shipment was intercepted Tuesday on the road towards Bouake. Mr. Soro says Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo sent the shipment to a rival rebel leader, Ibrahim Coulibaly in an attempt to spark fighting in the rebel-held north.

President Gbagbo denies the accusations. But there is growing fear the divided Ivory Coast, once the bastion of stability in Western Africa, is sliding back into war.

In the latest outbreak of violence, French soldiers in the north came under small arms fire Tuesday from more than a dozen militants who attacked their convoy. There were no French casualties.

The U.N. Special Representative to Ivory Coast, Albert Tevoedjre, has called on all parties to honor their commitments to the peace agreement signed in the Ghanaian capital Accra in July outlining reforms that would return Ivory Coast to democratic rule.

But the government failed to implement key political reforms by the September 30 deadline, and the rebels responded by refusing to disarm.

Leader of the New Forces Mr. Soro says implementation of the reforms must precede disarmament.

"Our position is that the political reforms must be implemented before we go to disarmament according to Accra III agreement," he said. "As the regime did not vote the political law concerning identity, nationality, eligibility it was impossible for us to begin the disarmament."

President Gbagbo said he would convene the cabinet Friday to discuss reforms. But Mr. Soro, who is the minister of communications in Ivory Coast's unity government, says for security reasons, he will likely skip the meeting.

"I will be in Abidjan if there is security there," said Guillaume Soro. "Anyway, I am in Bouake and Bouake is in Cote d'Ivoire."

Despite several peace agreements, Ivory Coast has been teetering on the edge of turmoil, since a failed coup attempt two years ago that split the country into two.

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