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Warring Sides in Ivory Coast React to Annan's Warnings

Representatives for warring parties in Ivory Coast agree with calls by United Nations' Secretary-General Kofi Annan for more peacekeepers. Mr. Annan has warned of an increasingly dangerous security situation because of militia activity.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan is asking for an additional 1,200 peacekeepers to reinforce an overstretched contingent of around 6,000 U.N. troops already on the ground in divided Ivory Coast.

The troop boost, Mr. Annan says, is essential to stopping what "is a very real danger" of a return to war following attacks on villages in the rebel-held west by militias loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo.

A spokesman for the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, Hamadoun Toure, says the United Nations will not tolerate groups set on undermining Ivory Coast's fragile cease-fire.

"The heads of the militia will be held responsible for their actions. I can't anticipate now and tell you what would be the fate of the heads of the militia groups," he said. "But I can tell you that the U.N. takes it very seriously, and they'll be held responsible for any acts conducted by the militias."

A spokesman from the rebel New Forces, which occupy the northern half of the country, Cisse Sindou, says he is happy the United Nations recognizes the militias as a problem. But, he says, to him there is one man who should be held responsible.

Laurent Gbagbo
"No doubt. The support is coming from Laurent Gbagbo," he said. "The arms are coming from him. The money that [maintains] them is coming from him. The paramilitary training. This is government formed militias. And I'm glad that the secretary-general of the U.N. is starting to understand that."

Mr. Gbagbo has denied any involvement, saying the militias are groups formed spontaneously by Ivorians wanting to force rebels to disarm.

U.N. troops are in Ivory Coast to patrol a cease-fire line that runs through the middle of the country. They are also mandated to enforce an embargo on arms sales.

Mr. Annan's call for an increased U.N. presence comes as the French government is considering whether to extend the mandate of its own 5,000 troop-strong peacekeeping mission, which expires in April. Mr. Annan said the French force, which has a mandate to assist U.N. peacekeepers, is indispensable to continued peace in Ivory Coast.

Thousands protested both for and against the French military last week, with supporters of President Gbagbo calling upon them to leave and northern residents asking them to stay.

Gbagbo supporter, Patricia Hamza says she is in favor of reinforcing U.N. troop numbers. But she says it's time for the French to leave the country.

"I think now between Cote d'Ivoire people and French troops, we have no trust. And if French troops will be in Cote d'Ivoire, I think that the war will be coming quickly," she said.

The discussions about peacekeepers come as South African mediators are trying to bring together all parties for a new round of talks. These have been delayed as Mr. Gbagbo held funeral services for his father in his home village this week. A rebel spokesman told VOA New Forces leader, Guillaume Soro, who has boycotted recent mediation efforts, plans to attend the talks in South Africa.