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Mbeki Fails in Latest Ivory Coast Mediation

South African President Thabo Mbeki has failed to bring together President Laurent Gbagbo and northern rebels during his latest mediation visit to divided Ivory Coast. Mr. Mbeki called on the former colonial power France to be more supportive of his efforts.

Before leaving the administrative capital Yamoussoukro Wednesday, Mr. Mbeki was given the remains of one of the Ivorian military planes destroyed by French peacekeeping forces in November.

France carried out the retaliation after an Ivorian air strike in the rebel-held north killed nine French soldiers. Mr. Gbagbo called the reaction excessive and accused France of preventing the disarmament of rebels.

During a national unity cabinet meeting he attended late Tuesday, Mr. Mbeki also called on French authorities to be more assertive in helping the peace process along. He had no other public comment during his visit.

After he left, Ivorian government spokesman Hubert Oulaye said the African Union will soon send a new full-time delegate to Ivory Coast to complement Mr. Mbeki's efforts.

The government also applauded the recent African Union statement asking for the United Nations to delay imposing sanctions against those found blocking the peace process.

Rebels boycotted the meeting, citing insufficient security in the government-held south. They also said they thought the meeting was taking place Wednesday as initially scheduled.

An opposition minister, Mabri Toikeuse expressed disappointment.

He said peace is very difficult work and that all parties should play their part.

Rebels and the opposition have been angered by another African Union summit statement this week, stating that holding a referendum on a key part of the stalled January 2003 peace deal was a viable option.

Speaking to reporters in the rebel stronghold of Bouake, rebel spokesman Sidiki Konate said this was a step back for the peace process.

He said laws that have been passed have been changed from the peace deal while the issue of the referendum is just a new stalling tactic. He says the issue of changing so-called article 35, on easing eligibility requirements for the presidency, is what caused the war in the first place.

Mr. Gbagbo says a referendum is needed to change the constitution.

Parliament approved changes to article 35 in December, but then fell short of the required two-thirds majority needed to organize a referendum.

Opposition lawmaker Boa Edjampan says the issue is now in constitutional limbo.

"I don't know if it's going to have this majority," he said. "According to our rules, after the first discussion of a law, if it's not adopted, this law can be re-examined, discussed again in three months. If there is no progress in the mediation by Mr. Mbeki, I think it will be difficult to find the two-thirds majority in parliament to adopt this law."

If changed, as called for in the French-brokered 2003 peace deal, article 35 could pave the way for popular northern opposition leader Alassane Ouattara to run in October presidential elections. The former prime minister has been barred from previous elections because of controversial court rulings over his nationality.