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South African Mediated Talks Seek Peace for Ivory Coast


Before the start of South African mediated peace talks to try to unite divided Ivory Coast, warring sides say they have little trust in the other. Although Ivorians hope for peace, they see renewed war as the only alternative if mediation in Pretoria fails.

All parties, including Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo, the so-called New Forces rebel leaders and major opposition figures, are scheduled to meet Sunday in the South African capital with the African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki.

A top New Forces leader, Mamadou Kone, has little faith in the success of negotiations - saying President Gbagbo prefers war.

Mr. Kone says that for more than two months there has been troop movement close to the buffer zone patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers and French rapid-reaction troops that divides the rebel held north from the government controlled south. Mr. Kone also accuses the government of creating new militias ready to fight the rebels.

The New Forces want the French-mediated 2003 Linas-Marcoussis peace deal fully implemented before disarming. The plan includes a change in the constitution that could pave the way for the main opposition leader Alassane Ouattara to run as a candidate in presidential elections, scheduled for October. Mr. Ouattara will also be present at the mediation talks.

One of Mr. Ouattara's supporters, Koffi Armani, says that fair elections are still possible and that they are tired of war which was sparked by a failed coup in 2002.

"We need elections today to have peace," said Koffi Armani. "What we have done in Marcoussis and the leaders decided to let everybody run for office, be candidates even Alassane Dramane Ouattara. He must be a candidate."

All opposition parties accuse President Laurent Gbagbo of stalling the peace process. But the secretary-general from Mr. Gbagbo's political party, Oueto Miaka, insists that rebels must disarm before progress is made.

He says that the president has made a lot of effort to reconcile with the rebels, but there is not good faith between them.

A presidential spokesman says that despite the stalemate Mr. Gbagbo looks forward to Pretoria with an open mind and hopes that talks will give a clear calendar for disarmament of the rebels and reunification of Ivory Coast.

Due to fears of a return to war, the British Embassy closed this week and advised all its citizens to leave Ivory Coast. The embassy spokesman said that the embassy was unable to protect British nationals.

The talks in South Africa also come as the mandate of U.N and French troops are up for renewal.

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