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South African President Travels to Ivory Coast in Effort to Mediate End to Conflict


South African President Thabo Mbeki is meeting all sides in the Ivory Coast conflict trying to break a two-year deadlock in peacemaking efforts. A lot is expected from Mr. Mbeki's four-day visit.

Drummers greeted Mr. Mbeki as he made his way to the presidential palace for a meeting with President Laurent Gbagbo on Friday.

His spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, says the South African leader, under a mandate from the African Union, is trying to present what is being called a new "roadmap for peace."

He says the support from all sides for Mr. Mbeki's effort is encouraging.

"What can be done to take forward the peace process? I think the reception has been very warm," said Bheki Khumalo. "We're very optimistic. The Ivorians, all of them, want a political solution and we are confident that is actually achievable."

Mr. Mbeki also received military honors, before Mr. Gbagbo showed him anti-artillery equipment that French forces destroyed last month along with the small Ivorian air force.

That destruction followed Mr. Gbagbo's decision to violate an 18-month ceasefire by bombing northern rebel targets as well as a base of French peacekeeping troops in the north. He said the rebels were planning an attack.

Mr. Mbeki already visited Abidjan last month during massive anti-French protests and looting, but stayed just one day.

During the talks Friday, Mr. Gbagbo said he was the only Ivorian implementing successive peace deals, pressuring parliament to pass new laws as required, while rebels were refusing to disarm.

The opposition and rebels have accused Mr. Gbagbo of blocking implementation of key reforms included in the peace deals.

Friday, Mr. Mbeki also met with opposition leaders and members of the reconciliation government, which has been plagued by boycotts by some parties.

The South African leader will meet with lawmakers Saturday, before going to rebel areas for talks there on Sunday.

The vice-president of an opposition party, Boa Amoakon Tiemele, says Mr. Mbeki's mediation is crucial.

"You know we have some difficulties among ourselves as Ivorians in the parties, in parliament and everywhere, the lack of confidence," said Boa Amoakon Tiemele. "We need some confidence among ourselves to make some progress toward peace. It's why we appreciate the intervention of the president of South Africa."

All sides have criticized efforts made by France, accusing the former colonial power of taking sides and not having a clear policy. French officials deny this, saying they have always worked to avoid major fighting in Ivory Coast.

Several thousand French troops are deployed along front lines and in both the rebel-controlled north and the government-controlled south, helping 6,000 United Nations peacekeepers trying to maintain the peace while efforts to reunite the country continue.

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